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Upstate prepares for evacuees from hurricane

Hospitality and Tourism
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The Upstate hospitality market as well as government officials are preparing for an influx of Lowcountry residents evacuating that area as Hurricane Matthew makes its way to the East Coast.

Gov. Nikki Haley called for the evacuation of the Lowcountry Tuesday as schools and government offices in that region were closed as the hurricane makes it way to the East Coast. As part of that evacuation, Greenville County Schools sent 315 buses to North Charleston to assist with the evacuation. Beth Brotherton, spokeswoman for the school system, said those buses left Heritage Park in Simpsonville early Wednesday morning.

“We’ll start leaving as soon as they have people to fill a bus,” Brotherton said. “There is really no timetable as to when those buses will return.”

(Photo by NOAA)Greenville Public Transportation officials said they sent three buses and operators as well as a mechanic and a service vehicle to Charleston to assist with the evacuation efforts. James Keel, assistant director of public transportation for the city, said there was no issue with allocating the resources to assist.

“We also look forward to providing evacuees who shelter in Greenville County without access to a personal vehicle with the ability to get around as they await a safe return to their homes,” Keel said.

Any evacuees will be taken to the TD Convention Center first and the school system has six county high schools designated as shelters – Berea, Mauldin, Hillcrest, Southside, Riverside and Wade Hampton.

“We may need one of them, we may need none of them,” Brotherton said. “It will all depend on how many people need to use them.”

Area hotels are also preparing for the potential of people coming from the Lowcountry to the Upstate to avoid the storm.

The issue now has become finding any available hotel space in the Upstate. Greg Greenawalt, general manager of the Crowne Plaza in Greenville, said that hotel is sold out through Saturday.

Barrett Alexander, general manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites at I-26 in Spartanburg said his property has experienced a constant barrage of phone calls since Haley made her initial call for evacuation on Tuesday.

“The phones have been ringing off the hook,” Alexander said. “We couldn’t put anyone on hold fast enough.”

He said Spartanburg was experiencing the same issues as Greenville in that there is a lack of hotel rooms open for the weekend. He said he only had about 14 rooms available before Haley’s announcement and those rooms were taken very soon after the governor’s press conference concluded.

“I think people are anticipating going home Saturday and we have some rooms available, but there is only seven,” Alexander said. “People think that, by Sunday, it will be okay and I have half the hotel available that day.”

Mildred Lipscomb, assistant general manager of the Comfort Suites at the Westgate Mall in Spartanburg, said that hotel is also full for the weekend. Hotels in Asheville, Hendersonville and Charlotte also appear to be filling quickly, according to Alexander.

In Anderson, Roger Chauhan, general manager of the Days Inn Anderson, said his facility was close to capacity prior to the call for evacuation and what was remaining was gone shortly after the press conference Tuesday. He said the hotel did not increase rates for evacuees traveling from the coast.

“We are trying to help people,” Chauhan said. “We aren’t overcharging and we are just trying to help as many as we can.”

Alexander said, even if the weather impacts the Upstate, his staff will be prepared.

“We have plenty of food and plenty of staff and we will do whatever we can,” Alexander said. “I have eight managers and about 32 full-time staff so we are fully staffed.

“The rains can come and the wind can come and we are still going to be here.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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