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No room at the inn; Arkansas hotels, restaurants enjoy booming business in wake of Hurricane.

The numbers are staggering.

An estimated 180,000 people in Florida and Louisiana are now homeless, thanks to Hurricane Andrew.

At least 10,000 homes were destroyed last week by the massive tropical storm. Tens of thousands more were severely damaged.

Damage estimates run as high as $20 billion.

Although the hurricane brought little more than heavy rains to Arkansas, it brought something else to the southeast portion of the state.

It brought customers.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Louisiana residents fled across the state border into Arkansas last week to escape the wrath of Andrew. Most were simply trying to find a safe refuge from the storm. Others were caught off-guard by the ferocity of the hurricane and opted to stay in Arkansas rather than attempt to return home.

Many businesses in southeast Arkansas received a lucrative three-day run in the aftermath of Andrew. Hotels and restaurants, especially, did a brisk business.

Several hotels reported being filled to capacity in the days following the hurricane, and some restaurant owners claimed to see as many customers in three days as they would in a week.

Residents of Baton Rouge and New Orleans began to stream into El Dorado on Aug. 24 -- the day the hurricane rammed into Florida while heading west. The majority of the Louisianans had no idea where they would spend the night.

The reason they chose El Dorado was simple, says Susan Wood, director of sales and marketing for the King's Inn Conference Center and Racquet Club.

It was "the closest place they could get a room."

Guests Galore

As hotels in Jackson, Miss., and Monroe, La., quickly filled up, the hurricane "refugees," as Wood calls them, turned to El Dorado.

"A lot of them were business customers of ours, so they knew to come here," says Wood, who saw 199 of the hotel's 201 rooms occupied within a day. She resorted to sending would-be guests to Magnolia and Camden and even as far away as Little Rock and Pine Bluff.

"You couldn't even get on the parking lot" because of the number of guests and would-be guests searching for a vacancy, Wood says.

Customers sat in the hotel's lobby until 11 p.m. on Aug. 25 in hopes of a last-minute reservation cancellation.

"It was pitiful," Wood says. "I wanted to take all of them home with me."

The Bonanza Family Restaurant attended to many of those who came into Arkansas with little or no knowledge of what faced them upon their return home.

"They didn't know what they were going to have when they went home," says John Cowger, the restaurant's manager. "They were just glad to be out of the way and hoped everything would be intact when they returned."

Cowger estimates he handled between 30 to 50 more customers in a two-hour span the afternoon of Aug. 25 than he normally would have.

The La Villa Motel at Lake Village resorted to sending would-be customers to nearby camping grounds at Lake Chicot State Park. The 48 rooms at La Villa had gone quickly.

Because the first three days of the week are the primary travel days for businessmen and government employees, many hotels were not able to afford shelter for the hurricane "refugees." Crossett's Ramada Inn reported having room for only four families, two that had come from as far away as New Orleans in an attempt to outrun Andrew.

"They stopped at every hotel between Baton Rouge and Crossett," says Rhonda Works, manager of the Ramada. "Monroe, Bastrop, Alexandria -- they were all full ... They just happened to stop here because there was a room available."
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Sep 7, 1992
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