Local hotels filled with stranded drivers during storm
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Jan 30, 2014 | 3152 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gerald Nichols-Front Desk Concierge at the Victoria works on reservations.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
Gerald Nichols-Front Desk Concierge at the Victoria works on reservations. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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As late as Thursday morning, cars and trucks could still be seen, nose-first in ditches and parked along roadsides throughout Calhoun County.

Many of the drivers who abandoned those vehicles, as the snow came down Tuesday, found warm beds in local hotels. But those hotels quickly filled up as the storm worsened and other drivers decided to play it safe and find a room.

“We sold out of rooms at 2 p.m.,” said Gerald Nichols, front desk concierge at the Victoria Inn in Anniston.

Nichols described the scene at his hotel this week as chaotic, with about 20 stranded drivers keeping warm in the lobby. The hotel was booked solid Tuesday and Wednesday. Cooks couldn’t get to work, so the hotel’s restaurant stayed closed, although patrons got their complimentary breakfasts, Nichols said.

The hotel staff eventually readied an out-of-order room where seven stranded drivers agreed to cram themselves in for a night’s sleep, Nichols said.

“They’d leave their cars at the Piggly Wiggly and Waffle House. Wherever they could,” Nichols said. All but a few of those stranded by the snow were checked out of the hotel by Thursday afternoon.

As she waited to look up room availability Wednesday morning, an operator at a Hampton Inn reservation service in Jacksonville, Fla., said she had nothing but bad news for people calling to find rooms in areas hit hard by the snow.

“I’m in Florida and I didn’t know what was happening, but then I heard about the snow,” the operator said. “I felt terrible, because there simply weren’t any available.”

Asked if there were rooms at the Jacksonville Hampton Inn she finally said, “Yes. I see rooms open at several around Jacksonville, Fla.”

But the Jacksonville in Alabama?

“Oh. No. I’m sorry,” she said. “Nothing is available.”

About 10 people left their vehicles and walked to the local Hampton Inn in Jacksonville, said property manager Sandy Powell. That hotel sold out Tuesday and Wednesday as well, Powell said.

Calls to dozens of hotels in Calhoun County Wednesday afternoon resulted in only a handful of available rooms, but more became available for Thursday afternoon as road conditions improved slightly and people made their way home. Parking lots in Oxford’s hotels were largely empty Thursday afternoon.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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