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Hotel bookings in many places across the Southeast U.S. are surging into the weekend as millions seek shelter from Hurricane Matthew.
The Category 3 storm is expected to make landfall Friday, but has already made its presence felt along Florida's east coast. With limited time to plan, many residents and tourists have been forced to settle for a hotel stay farther inland.
With hotels in Central Florida filling up first, the Tampa area has seen a significant surge in bookings from evacuees.
Citing the county's emergency management director Preston Cook, the Tampa Bay Times reported that hotel occupancy in Hillsborough County was approximately 95 percent as of Thursday afternoon.
Since hotels are running out of space, some are looking for other ways to help evacuees, including being flexible with their pet policies and offering special rates.
"This is not a situation where hotels look to make extra money on this," Visit St. Pete/Clearwater executive director David Downing told the Times. "The rates are favorable to help people out, and it's coming at a time that's not the peak of the season."
Nonetheless, many evacuees have taken to social media accusing properties of price gouging.
Today.com reported that a Days Inn hotel near Orlando had quadrupled its rates ahead of the storm. Others have reported similarly disturbing price jumps.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that hotels and other businesses that price gouge customers will be penalized. "If you are a hotel and you're increasing your prices, we are going after you. You cannot increase your prices in a state of emergency," Bondi said during an interview with FOX Business Network's Neil Cavuto.
"It's sickening if you are a hotel and you are raising your prices to profit from people who are out of their homes and need a place to stay," added Bondi.
NBC2 reported that as many as 1,800 Florida residents have filed price gouging complaints.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal both tweeted out links for residents to file price gouging complaints.
To report a price gouging complaint, file online at: https://t.co/WPkIHjCC7h#Matthew- Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) October 7, 2016
To report a price gouging complaint, file online at: https://t.co/WPkIHjCC7h#Matthew
The AG's Office of Consumer Protection has an online form to report price gouging in the 30 counties under SOE: https://t.co/kucWVqMbPL- Governor Nathan Deal (@GovernorDeal) October 6, 2016
The AG's Office of Consumer Protection has an online form to report price gouging in the 30 counties under SOE: https://t.co/kucWVqMbPL
The hurricane exodus is also being felt in Atlanta, where hotels filled up quickly Thursday.
"They were coming from Savannah and Jacksonville," Four Seasons Atlanta spokeswoman Marsha Middleton told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The hotel went from mediocre occupancy for the weekend to completely sold out. It all happened yesterday."
"The hotel is now over-capacity with people and dogs," added Middleton.
More than 240 miles northeast of Atlanta, hotels in Charlotte, North Carolina are also experiencing unusually high occupancy rates because of Matthew.
On Thursday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley encouraged evacuees from her state to head north to Charlotte with hotel rooms off of the South Carolina coast having filled up fast.
A spokeswoman told the Charlotte Observer that the Aloft Charlotte Ballantyne was offering discounted room rates of $159 to South Carolinians Thursday night. However the property along with many others is booked solid for Friday and Saturday.
Compounding the last-minute surge in bookings in Charlotte are two major upcoming events in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night and the Carolina Panthers' Monday Night Football showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both of which have drawn visitors from out of town.
While Southeast hotels out of harm's way are clearly benefiting from Matthew, not all are thrilled about the boost in business.
"There's definitely a demand and it's very sad because this is the type of business you don't want, when people are scattering and leaving their homes behind," St. Pete Beach, Florida's Alden Beach Resort & Suites vice president of operations Tony Satterfield told the Times.
"We're going to benefit, but nobody is happy about it."
Residents and tourists in need of shelter from Hurricane Matthew are encouraged to click here for a list of available accommodations across the state of Florida.
A Maryland native and wanderer who has lived across the U.S. from North Carolina to SoCal, Patrick Clarke graduated from Towson...
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