Chicago? Brazil? Some of those looking for a long Labor Day weekend away now find themselves considering anywhere but Florida, with the Sunshine State ready to get slammed within days by Hurricane Dorian.
The storm is set to hit Florida’s east coast anywhere between Miami and Jacksonville, basically the entire length of the state, during the three-day weekend, with torrential rains and 130 mile-per-hour (209 kilometer) winds.
Airlines are considering whether to cancel flights, cruise lines are rerouting ships in the region, and all hands are on deck at destination hotels. Meanwhile, travelers are definitely rethinking their holiday plans. Shara Arnofsky, a New York City physical therapist, had planned to fly to Boynton Beach to meet her boyfriend’s parents for the first time.
Instead, “I think we might just go to Chicago this weekend,” she said in a telephone interview.
About 17.5 million Americans were expected to fly during the Labor Day weekend, according the trade group Airlines for America, with Friday typically the busiest day. But that’s when the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the state could start feeling the storm’s early affects.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, and on Thursday expanded it to include all 67 counties, compared with 26 in his original executive order. He said he took the step due to Dorian’s “uncertain projected path,” according to an emailed statement.
Rising Wind Speed
The U.S. National Hurricane Center on Thursday said Dorian’s wind speed is expected to hit 130 miles per hour within 72 hours, making it a major Category 4 hurricane as it heads northwest toward Florida, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. A storm of that magnitude, the center said, can tear the walls and roofs off homes, snap most trees it hits, and topple power lines.
The issue will be where the storm hits, and exactly when. While Arnofsky makes new airline reservations, her boyfriend’s mom — whose Boynton Beach home is in a coastline community — spent Wednesday “at Costco buying water and supplies,” Arnofsky said in a telephone interview.
She isn’t the only one stocking up. One in seven gas stations in some parts of Florida are running out of fuel as motorists prepare for the storm, according to GasBuddy, which monitors fuel prices in the U.S. And there’s an early run on supplies in local markets.
First Hurricane Season
Margalit Edelman, a Miami-based public affairs director, filled her tank on Tuesday. She’s living through her first Florida hurricane season, after moving last year from New York.
Edelman is going all the way with her preparations. She had a plane ticket in hand to Brazil on Sunday for a business trip. She bought a second one leaving Friday and, just in case the storm hits mid-state, as its path now suggests, she made a reservation at a Miami hotel that’s further inland than her South Beach home.
She’s hoping Plan A works out. “There are worse things to do than spending a weekend in Brazil,” Edelman said.
At Rosen Hotels & Resorts Inc.’s call center in Orlando, employees were tackling cancellation calls and emergency reservations.
Call Center ‘Crazy’
“The call center is crazy today — at any given point, we’ve had about 60 to 80 calls in queue,” Jennifer Rice-Palmer, director of guest contact at Rosen, said by phone. “As cancellations come in, there’s another person in the queue waiting to book that reservation.”
Rosen is offering special distress rates of about 50 percent or more across eight of its Orlando-area hotels and resorts, while also waving pet and cancellation fees. There’s only a few rooms left for Sunday night, and reservations for Monday are starting to fill up too, Rice-Palmer said.
Most of these reservations are made by residents living in the region who want to be in a more secure location with access to food and emergency generators, Rice-Palmer said. One woman made a reservation at the hotel today because her son had breathing treatments that required electricity, she added.
Revenue takes a hit during storm periods, especially for the higher-priced resorts, which are normally snatched up during the long weekend, Rice-Palmer said. Still, offering discounts “is the right thing to do,” she said.
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