Tuesday's daybreak along the U.S. Gulf Coast brought heartbreak: scenes of devastation, loss of life, and reports of thousands of people who had no homes to return to after evacuating them on Saturday and Sunday in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina.
While most of the attention had been focused on New Orleans, in Harrison County, Mississippi, where the popular meeting and casino destinations of Gulfport and Biloxi are located, the death toll could be highest. And according to a report by USA Today, between flight cancellations and blocked roads it will be impossible for visitors to get into much of the region before the end of this week.
In New Orleans, many hotels either closed entirely or remained open only to accommodate emergency personnel and stranded tourists. At the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, shown widely on television reports with windows blown out on at least one side of the high-rise hotel, "the majority of guests were evacuated prior to Hurricane Katrina's arrival," according to a message posted on Monday on the hotel's Web site.
"Guests and employees that remain on the premises--primarily hotel staff and their families, city officials, and those in emergency-related roles--have been safely relocated to the hotel's well-sheltered ballroom and exhibit hall areas where they are being fed and kept comfortable while the storm passes. According to General Manager Michael Smith, the heaviest physical damage to the hotel has been caused by windows being blown in to hotel guest rooms, all of which were completely vacated prior to Katrina's arrival."
On Monday, the Dallas Convention and Visitor Bureau announced that 23 of its city's hotel were offering reduced room rates for evacuees of the storm, and would extend those rates "as long as it will take for some communities to get utilities and other services in operation," said Dallas CVB president/CEO Phillip Jones.
In addition, "the bureau is in constant contact with the Hotel Association of Greater Dallas and our member hotels, and we will continue to add their special rates throughout the week," Jones said. "Our hotels are providing us with their week-by-week availability of room blocks and the Dallas Convention Center and Dallas Market Center are keeping us informed about their availability. We contacted American Airlines, which agreed to not assess destination change fees for group business relocating to Dallas due to Hurricane Katrina.
"In addition, we are actively responding to customer requests about availability and have contacted the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to let our colleagues know that, where we share clients for meetings scheduled now through future years, we will accommodate them by switching our dates with theirs, based on availability, to enable the city to have adequate ramp-up time for their facilities to be fully functional," Jones said in the statement. "All of us have friends or family throughout the affected states, and we want to offer our support. The hospitality industry is close--in good times and bad--and it is our intention to assist in whatever way we can."