Ernesto ruins holiday plans for many people visiting along the East Coast

Published 10:43 pm Saturday, September 2, 2006

The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto put a sloppy wet damper on the last big tourism weekend of the summer for many people, making a mess of some oceanfront hotels and leaving beaches and boardwalks less crowded than usual.

Ernesto was reduced to an area of rain over western New York state and the lower Great Lakes by Saturday afternoon, after drenching Virginia and North Carolina with up to a foot on its run up the East Coast.

It had caused flooding that forced hundreds of people out of their homes, and more than a half-million homes and businesses still had no electricity Saturday in the mid-Atlantic states. At least four deaths were blamed on the storm in Virginia, plus one in North Carolina.

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Hotels in Virginia Beach reported some last-minute cancelations Saturday as the storm apparently led many people to change their plans. Some who decided to tough it out faced oceanfront rooms with carpets soaked by wind-driven rain.

“I’ve never seen it this severe in all my years here,” said Jimmy Capps, manager of the Breakers Resort Inn. “Probably every oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach has some wet carpet.”

Capps said his staff called some guests and told them to postpone their arrival from Friday until Saturday because of the soaked rugs, leaving 23 of the 56 rooms vacant.

He said he still hoped to be “close to full” for the rest of the weekend.

Miles Schaeffer, morning manager at the Colonial Inn, said cancelations left 20 of the hotel’s 222 rooms vacant Saturday. Guests in oceanfront rooms were told they would have to deal with wet carpets.

“Most people are pretty understanding,” Schaeffer said.

Hotel operators said it could have been worse if not for two major weekend events in Virginia Beach: the American Music Festival and the annual Rock ’n’ Roll Half-Marathon.

The music festival started Saturday after Friday’s scheduled opening was canceled because of the storm, said Sherri Waghalter, manager of the Virginia Beach Information Center. The marathon, with about 22,000 runners, is set for Sunday.

“I think we’ll still have a lot of people coming,” Waghalter said.

Casino operators in Atlantic City, N.J., had no complaints. Harrah’s Entertainment spokeswoman Alyce Parker said all four of the company’s hotels — Harrah’s, Showboat, Bally’s Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City — were already booked for the weekend and Saturday’s wind and drizzle just kept people on the casino floors.

“People really aren’t on the beach,” Parker said.