Evacuees plan to stop in city

Published 9:26 pm Friday, August 29, 2008

As Hurricane Gustav inches closer to landfall many coastal residents are seeking refuge further inland, causing an influx at local hotels.

Hotel rooms across Demopolis that usually lie without reservations this time of year have suddenly become a hot commodity.

“When people are forced to evacuate from the coast, let’s use Mobile for an example, it’s not uncommon for hotels within 200 miles of the shoreline to fill up,” Jay Shows, General Manager of the Best Western Two Rivers, said. “It happens here about twice a year.”

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Shows said as the beaches are evacuated – voluntarily or involuntarily – in anticipation of a hurricane making a landfall, motorists headed north begin to seek shelter.

“You come through Jackson, Thomasville, Demopolis, Tuscaloosa and so forth,” he said. “Once the Jackson is full, people look to Thomasville, then to Demopolis, then to Tuscaloosa…The further north you go, the more likely it will be to find lodging.”

The Demopolis Econo Lodge and Holiday Inn Express also are booked well past seasonal averages for this weekend.

“Many times we have people make reservations in anticipation of a major storm,” Shows said. “If an evacuation isn’t ordered or they decide to ride it out, we’ll see cancellations en masse.”

As thousands of tourists were arriving in coastal Alabama for one last summer blast over the Labor Day weekend, state and local officials took steps to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav along the Gulf Coast next week.

Hurricane Gustav continued gaining strength Friday as it left Jamaica and headed toward western Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico.

Gustav has been blamed for 71 deaths on its path through Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Gustav headed for current that fuels big storms

The difference between a monster and a wimp for Gulf of Mexico hurricanes often comes down to a small patch of warm deep water that’s easy to miss. It’s called the Loop Current, and hurricane trackers say Gustav is headed right for it, reminiscent of Katrina.

Gustav is likely to reach this current late Saturday, experts say. What happens next will be crucial, maybe deadly.

If Gustav hits the Loop Current and lingers in that hot spot, watch out. If the storm misses it or zips through the current, then Gustav probably won’t be much of a name to remember.

The meandering Loop Current, located in the southeastern gulf, provides loads of hurricane fuel. It was a key stopover for nearly all the Gulf Coast killers of the past, including Katrina and Camille, said Florida International University professor Hugh Willoughby, former director of the government’s hurricane research division.

t happened in 2005. “Katrina went over the Loop Current and intensified rapidly,” said Mark DeMaria, a Colorado-based expert on hurricane strength with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Then less than a month later a weak tropical storm named Rita followed Katrina into the Loop Current. Thirty hours later it was a Category 5 monster.