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At a Tampa Hotel, an Exodus of the Evicted

Marriott Held Out Until Order Came

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2004; Page A06

TAMPA, Aug. 13 -- The voice of doom came at breakfast.

It was big, urgent and sternly ominous as it boomed out over the loudspeakers in every room of the hotel. And not just any hotel. This was the hotel that would not bend to the storm -- a hulking, 20-year-old stucco Marriott that checked in guests when other hotels nearby were closing down.

As Hurricane Charley nears, Evelyn Santos and her son, Luis Pereria, 11, with their dog, Snowy, learn they won't have lodging in Tampa. (Chris Matula -- Palm Beach Post Via AP)

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But even this hardy hotel finally had to concede to the apocalyptic warnings about Hurricane Charley, the dire predictions of flooding and slicing wind shears and general mayhem.

"The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department," the voice announced, "has ordered the hotel evacuated -- immediately!"

The hundreds of guests inside were left to become part of the exodus of nearly 2 million Floridians and visitors fleeing Charley's path Friday. With storm surges threatening the Gulf Coast, Tampa officials were taking no chances and even those who made the hotel their temporary home were being forced to seek refuge someplace farther inland.

All along this strip of Florida, known as the Suncoast, people had boarded windows, packed cars and joined a stream of traffic across bridges to higher ground.

At the Marriott, Alina Garber was on the phone to her husband in Mexico City. Garber, 37, was telling him that they had been run out of their summer home in St. Petersburg Beach because of the approaching storm and had headed across the bay to safer ground. Her son, Jimmy, 11, hopped up and down, telling her to listen. Listen to the voice.

"Mama, mama," he said. "We've got to go."

Within minutes the elevators were packed. Sunburned mothers and fussy kids jammed in next to retirees tugging pampered terriers. Golf guys in their preppy shirts and shorts lashed bags of bottled water to their rolling suitcases.

Everyone had the same question: Where the heck are we going to go? Where will we sleep?

When a hurricane is bearing down, just hours away, they were joining the throngs who had filled shelters nearby as others traveled as far as Georgia to escape Charley.

At the checkout desk, Kasia Piorek -- from Poland, her name tag announced -- directed traffic.

"You," she said, calling out to a man in a triathlon T-shirt. "You're the complicated one."

He nodded. Complicated, indeed. He needed five rooms at the end of the escape route, across the body of Florida in Orlando, hours away in the growing traffic jam.

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