Marriott evacuates its remaining guests from New Orleans

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WASHINGTON -- Marriott International at press time had chartered motorcoaches and hired a cadre of security guards help secure the evacuation of 350 guests and employees still remaining in its Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott are the last two of 15 Marriott-branded hotels in New Orleans that remained occupied. Most of the guests and employees were in the Ritz-Carlton, a 575-room property on Canal Street.

Officials, speaking during a telephone press conference Sept. 1, said moving them over to the JW Marriott, a few blocks away, was proving to be cumbersome due to the fact that the Ritz-Carlson was surrounded by about four feet of water.

It has been very difficult to get the people out, said Jeff Wolf, Marriotts regional vice president of marketing operations. We have been able to move [more than] 600 people through [the water] and get them evacuated to the JW Marriott, where motorcoaches were waiting to transport them to Baton Rouge, La.

At one point during the storm, the hotels provided shelter to as many as 2,500 people.

The day after the storm, many were evacuated. Later, locals displaced from their homes sort out shelter in the hotels.

Like many Marriott properties, the hotels have emergency electrical generators that remained operating even as New Orleans lost power during and after the storm.

At no point did we actually shutdown our generators, Wolf said. Generally, the hotels had light, but no air conditioning, as the generators began to run out of fuel.

Meanwhile, as crime and looting has increasingly become more of a problem as the overall situation grows more desperate in New Orleans, Marriott has hired 24 armed security guards and additional motorcoaches to assure safe passage as it evacuated its remaining guests and staff.

Our intension now is to remove all of our people and our guests as quickly as possible, Wolf said.

The evacuees will be sent to Baton Rouge, where Marriott has set up a command post to coordinate accommodations and other services.

Robert McCarthy, Marriotts executive vice president, North American lodging operations, said the post is manned by some 50 people ready to provide aid to evacuees.

We also have accommodations available in Houston where we have a fair number of properties, McCarthy said, adding that along with the evacuation efforts, Marriott was also providing assistance to employees.

We are dealing with employment issues and dealing with getting our associates paid, he said. Marriott plans to continue to pay its affected employees through Sept. 9. Payment beyond that is under review, McCarthy said.

Although it was likely that Marriotts hotels in New Orleans would be completely empty by the weekend if not sooner, it also appeared clear that properties would not remain empty for long.

We have demand that is rising rapidly from insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, McCarthy said. There are several thousand rooms being requested in the area. At the same time, you have a large number of people who are homeless and need accommodations.

Officials said Marriott is ready to return to New Orleans as soon as it gets the go ahead from the city.

We have 50 engineers in Baton Rouge. As soon as the city is safe, they will go in and assess the conditions of the assets from an infrastructure standpoint, said Lenny Jachimowicz, Marriotts vice president, lodging engineering. Behind that, we have 200 engineers that are already mobilized to go in and start the rebuilding process. In addition to that, we have [power] generators en route to all of the hotels in New Orleans. But all of that is contingent on access to the city and when we have water and sewer returned to its normal operation.

Despite the severe devastation caused in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and the rapidly deteriorating conditions left in its wake, J.W. Marriott, Jr., Marriotts chairman and CEO, was optimistic that the city nicknamed The Big Easy would be restored before long.

This is a most distressful and concerning time for us, he said. Obviously, it is the biggest natural disaster ever to hit our country. [But] the long-term outlook for New Orleans is very positive. When this country gets mobilized and decides it is going to do something, it gets done. Whether it is Sept. 11 in New York, Pearl Harbor or back with the San Francisco earthquake or the Chicago fire, we get it rebuilt and we do it in a hurry. We are very confident that the city will be rebuilt in a timely fashion and comeback better than ever before.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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For more details on this article, see "Many hotels filling up with Hurricane Katrina evacuees."

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