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Gulf Coast evacuees still in need

By Staff Columnist
On October 11, 2005

Whenever a disaster strikes, all eyes and hands turn to pay attention and offer help. Eventually, though, people return to their own lives and thoughts turn elsewhere.Well, it's begun, and this time it didn't take long. Just over a month ago, the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Katrina and normal life ended for many people. Families were separated. Thousands lost everything they had. Many died.

Although we rarely give it deep thought, most of us find comfort in knowing where our loved ones are, where we'll go and what we'll do tomorrow, and where we'll sleep tonight. The evacuees of Katrina don't know, and, for them, a new chapter has begun.

Many survivors were evacuated to one place and then another, taken in by strangers, or moved into hotels. Every spare hotel room for hundreds of miles was filled. Now, some hotels are asking evacuees to leave so that customers with reservations, who will pay full price, can move in.

Where will they go? They don't have homes to go to, and many don't have hometowns any longer. Sounds coldhearted, doesn't it?

On the other hand, the traveler, who likely made the reservation long ago, needs a place to stay. If the hotel doesn't honor the contract, it not only runs the risk of angering customers and losing business, but also may face lawsuits that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Add to that the economic impact that could affect the entire nation. If hotels are unable to rent rooms for full price, they not only lose that money, but also money from additional services that guests use.

Eventually they will have to lay off employees, adding to unemployment. Airlines, who depend heavily on the traveler and are already in deep financial trouble, will be forced to cut back even further, causing more layoffs. Businesses that depend on the tourists will be hurt when there are no tourists because they can't find a room, and will result in layoffs and business closures. And so it goes.

If there is an answer, it is a complicated one, and no one is sure where to begin. The only thing that is certain is that it's going to take time, perseverance, sacrifice and a lot of patience.

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