|By Mary Ellen Klas, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 1, 2005 - TALLAHASSEE - Hundreds of Katrina evacuees who fled to Tallahassee seeking refuge from the storm have been politely told by their hotels and motels to leave this weekend to make room for a football game: FSU vs. Miami.
Hotel space is traditionally scarce any time the Florida State Seminoles take on the University of Miami Hurricanes, one of the choicest tickets on the college football schedule.
But with hotels packed with families from Louisiana and Mississippi, and room space booked for Monday's game for months, hotel operators say they are trying to accommodate the evacuees but have no choice but to nudge them out.
"We have to let them know what's going on in town and they're going to have to leave," said Angie Rayman, manager at the Howard Johnson. "Many of them are trying to get closer to home anyway."
Local emergency officials say it's happened before, when the football schedule displaced Panhandle evacuees who fled from Hurricane Opal in 1995.
This time, the American Red Cross is ready to help. It will open as many as six shelters if needed -- five churches and a senior center -- and volunteers are plentiful.
"It only takes 20 minutes to get a shelter up and running," said Faye Rioux, shelter manager for the Leon County chapter of the American Red Cross. "As long as there's a need, we'll be there."
But for some of the evacuees, being displaced for a football game is just one more setback in a week of suffering.
"I'm disappointed because I wanted to stay about three weeks," said James Payne, 63, of West Bank, La. He found the Holiday Inn Capital View on the Web and drove 19 hours to get there Sunday.
His wife, who is in a wheelchair, and his sick mother-in-law weathered the ride, but it was a strain on them all, and on his weak heart. He has no idea whether his house is still standing and expects it will be weeks before he heads home.
"I'm not saying anything bad," he said. "It's all kind of hard. But we can't stand in the road."
The staff at the Marriott Courtyard told the Hall family of Gulfport, Miss., that they have to leave by Friday night.
Reagan Hall, a Gulfport dentist, made arrangements to relocate to a Destin hotel, and to meet other relatives there, but they'll have to find another kennel for their three dogs.
"I'd be real happy about it if they gave me [game] tickets," he said. His wife said she's ready to leave.
"I'm getting antsy to get back anyway," said Joy Hall, holding their 4-month-old son, Dawson. The family's dental office is still standing, just four blocks from the battered beach, but they have no idea about their home.
The message was the same from hotel officials at the Doubletree, the Best Western and Homewood Suites.
The Ramada Inn was the exception. Hotel staff saw the conflict coming last week. They are housing the UM football team but wanted to accommodate everyone, said Rochell Araiza, director of sales.
So the staff called around, found some Miami residents who didn't need their rooms and persuaded others to reschedule for another time.
The result: They have enough rooms, with a few to spare, for the evacuees and their pets "to stay as long as they need to," she said.
FSU officials said they were not aware of the hotel crunch but separately planned a response to the hurricane. FSU President T.K. Wetherell asked football fans to come to Doak Campbell stadium ready to make cash donations for the American Red Cross to help victims.
"If we join together and use this game as an opportunity to mount a relief effort, we can make a real difference in the lives of people who are truly suffering," he said.
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