Hotels inundated with people seeking shelter from winter storm

Published 12:56 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hotels in Chilton County were bombarded Tuesday with a heavy influx of stranded people looking for places to stay during the winter storm, and chances that any hotels will have vacancies Wednesday night are slim.

Hundreds of people unable to make it home Tuesday night occupied rooms at local hotels, including Holiday Inn Express, Scottish Inn, Best Western, Key West Inn and Inn of Clanton, all of which are located near the Interstate 65 corridor.

According to hotel managers, some of their guests were able to drive to the hotels or to businesses nearby to park, but others had to abandon their vehicles on icy roads and walk the rest of the way to the hotels.

Debra James, front desk manager at Holiday Inn Express off Exit 205 in Clanton, said most of the people occupying her hotel’s 63 rooms were there because of the storm.

James estimated between 20-30 people had to leave their vehicles and walk to the hotel.

Two people unable to book a regular room stayed in the hotel’s meeting room and slept on pallets they made on the floor.

“They were stranded,” James said. “Some people had to park at Whataburger and just walk up the hill to get here.”

James said Holiday Inn Express was full by about 1 p.m. Tuesday.

“We had a line in the lobby for awhile just to get everybody checked in,” James said. “We were very understaffed yesterday. We manned the building with four employees.”

James used the term “fearful” to describe many of the people that came into her hotel in search of a room Tuesday night.

“As we had a few cancellations, that’s when we were able to get some more people in,” James said. “Some reservations we already had were canceling, so we were able to get a few more in.”

James said she was able to send some people to other hotels in Clanton after her hotel had run out of available rooms.

Currently, Holiday Inn Express is already completely booked for Wednesday night, as are Best Western, Scottish Inn and Key West Inn.

“Last night we were sold out completely, and tonight should be the same as well,” Best Western manager Shaye Castleberry said. “We’re still turning people away today.”

Castleberry said her hotel started out Tuesday with four of its 53 rooms reserved.

By about 1 p.m., all other rooms aside from the four already reserved were booked because of the weather.

Castleberry said more than 10 of her guests had to abandon their vehicles to get to the hotel.

“More than 80-85 percent of them were here because of weather,” Castleberry said of the hotel’s guests. “Some of them were brought here by state troopers. They were very scared. A lot of them were actually in tears because they didn’t think they would make it down the highway OK, and they were thankful we had rooms at that time.”

Castleberry said people started coming into the hotel at 9:30 a.m. to escape the storm.

Office manager Heman Patel at Scottish Inn in Clanton said he had about 140 people stay at his hotel Tuesday night because of the weather.

“So many people had to walk from being stranded,” Patel said. “We tried [to help] as much as we can, but we can’t accommodate everybody. We did our best for all of our customers.”

Patel said he doubts there will be any cancellations Wednesday because the roads are still too icy for driving.

“They can’t go anywhere,” Patel said. “We had a lot of people like that coming in today. I don’t know where to send them.”