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South Florida Hotels Hustle to Assess Storm Damage;
The Amount of Destruction Quite Startling

By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Oct. 26, 2005 - Pieces of the roof coming off the 18-unit Martindale motel on Fort Lauderdale beach smashed the windows of the nearby Shell motel, driving guest Phil Jones into a walk-in closet on Monday morning.

As Hurricane Wilma sent roof-mounted air conditioners and planks full of roofing nails flying, Jones poured himself a glass of wine. He stayed put for four hours.

"It was frightening at some times," the Toronto resident said on Tuesday while waiting for a cab to take him to a cruise. "I'd never been through a hurricane before."

Across South Florida, visitors were checking out and hotels were checking damage. Earthmovers were digging sand off State Road A1A, which was partly buried by the storm. One section of the tourist main drag was blocked off with yellow police tape to keep people away from a damaged building crane at the Q Club construction site between Las Olas and Sunrise boulevards.

In Palm Beach County, the 1,063-room Boca Raton Resort was closed to new guests but still caring for those who arrived before the storm. Damage was mainly to landscaping.

The Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan was shut down with the town's police force using the hotel as an operational base, according to Roberto van Geenen, general manager. Damage was not as bad this year as last for the beachfront hotel, which was closed for a month after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year.

While some hotels should be back in business soon, older structures such as the 1950s-era Martindale seemed unlikely to rebound quickly.

The garden courtyard of the apartment-style motel was strewn with sheets of asphalt roof material.

Next door, at the Sandy Shores, a sister property, the doors of Units 309 and 310 blew off at the height of the storm.

Other hotels in Fort Lauderdale had lesser damage, but almost all of the properties on the beach lost windows to the wind, frightening guests and opening rooms to water damage.

Twenty to 30 west-facing windows shattered at the Sheraton Yankee Trader hotel, general manager Amaury Piedra said. At the Bahia Mar Resort, home to Fort Lauderdale's annual boat show, a big section of floor-to-ceiling window facing the ocean was gone.

At the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort, the sales and catering offices were open to the breezes Tuesday, with piles of glass chips where about a dozen south-facing windows used to be.

"The amount of damage was quite startling," said Nick Brown, an insurance executive from Yorkshire, England, who was checking out of Pier 66 on Tuesday and heading to Orlando.

Several hotels remained open on Tuesday. The Yankee Trader, which had power restored, got about 120 people who transferred from the Yankee Clipper, which did not. Neither was taking new reservations "until everything gets stabilized," Piedra said.

Many of the visitors remaining on the beach were waiting to board the Carnival Legend cruise ship. Some, like Seattle nurse Lori Busby, were getting agitated.

Although she praised the Yankee Trader's staff, Busby said she had been unable to talk to her family since Sunday and was ready to punt on her cruise, which was delayed on Monday and switched from Port Everglades to Miami on Tuesday.

"I just want to get home at this point," Busby said. "I'm tired of it now."

Fort Lauderdale hotels that were hoping to reap the benefits of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this week instead are looking at empty rooms and a wait until at least Nov. 3 for the boat show bonanza.

It may be academic for some properties.

The Oceanfront Resort just south of Las Olas Boulevard on State Road A1A, took a beating from the storm. Windows on its top floor were mostly gone, the rooms stuffed with debris.

At the Embassy Suites hotel on the 17th Street Causeway, where valets normally help guests enter and leave the lobby, no one was coming or going anywhere Tuesday.

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To see more of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com.

Copyright (c) 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com.

 
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