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Evacuees fill local hotel rooms after Hurricane Laura

NATCHEZ — Many evacuees from areas affected by Hurricane Laura fled to Natchez and Vidalia on Wednesday evening.

With so many downed trees and power outages in the area, others in South Louisiana have faced far worse.

Virgil Jackson, owner of Clarion Suites in Vidalia, said he was booked to capacity with families moving northeast away from the storm, mostly from the Lake Charles area in South Louisiana.

“I’ve been totally sold out with evacuees,” Jackson said. “Some have been completely devastated. This has been the nicest group of people I’ve ever had fill the hotel. It’s a terrible way to get booked up.”

Jackson said upwards of 90 rooms have been booked with as many as five people into a room.

On Thursday afternoon, people started to leave homeward in groups — testing the roads to see if they could get through and reporting damages back to their friends, Jackson said.

Horror stories of houses being ripped apart by wind and trees have been relayed back to families, Jackson said.

Jay Panchal, manager of Red Carpet Inn in Natchez, said the hotel has also been fully booked with people from Lafayette and Lake Charles.

“We have 88 rooms and only a few rooms left. Most of them are full,” Panchal said.

Lacy Jonet, said she arrived in Natchez on Wednesday evening and had received reports from friends.

“The windows in my bedroom were busted out, the Isle of Capri is under the bridge, telephone poles are down and the bayou is collapsed. That’s all I know so far,” Jonet said.

Charlotte Sonnier and she and her daughter Casey, her son Cody, Cody’s girlfriend Payton Rollins and Rollin’s six-month-old son Andrew arrived at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Natchez on Wednesday afternoon from Moss Bluff, located north of Lake Charles.

“Moss Bluff is very devastated. Lake Charles is devastated. We’ve got a plant on fire in West Lake by our house,” Charlotte said. “We don’t know if we can get home but we’ve got to go tomorrow. We can’t afford to stay in a hotel any longer. We’ve evacuated but we’re getting groceries and we have a generator and we’re going home.”

The Sonnier’s said they have heard and read news stories about the devastation around where they live.

“There’s a boat that used to be part of the casino lodged into the I-10 bridge that was already on the edge of falling apart,” Cody said.

Charlotte said they had no idea what condition their home is in.

“My neighbor is on his way home now. Another neighbor has a tree on hers. We’ll find out within the next hour if our house is OK,” Charlotte said. “We were prepared to stay when Laura was a Category 3, but we had to leave as soon as we heard it was a Category 4. We had a baby and we couldn’t stay.”

Patricia Cothren, general manager at Hampton Inn & Suites, said the hotel group is working with organizations such as the American Red Cross and FEMA to assist those displaced by the storm.

“We are currently working with organizations … to assist in providing a safe place for people to stay as they navigate through this crisis and will accommodate those in need as we have availability,” Cothren said.

“As we work with these organizations, those displaced should keep in mind that we are a pet-friendly hotel and welcome those beloved pets. While we anticipate some guests to depart, we know some will come back until they are able to return to their homes permanently. We are here to do what we can to comfort our guests, our neighbors and our friends during these trying times. Our guests come first.”

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