As superstorm Sandy barreled its way toward lower Manhattan, hotels in the area began to take precautions. Some transported guests to other hotels. Others shut down entirely.
But one stayed open: the Park South Hotel, situated on the former site of the Civil Defense Building, which was erected in 1906. With the help of back-up generators and a seasoned staff, the hotel was able to offer shelter and comfort for 237 adults, children, and staff members who otherwise would have been displaced in the storm.
And they credit Sept. 11, 2001, with giving them the experience and emergency skills necessary for dealing with disaster.
The hotel, located on 28th Street and Park Avenue, opened not long after the terrorist attacks, and first response became an integral part of its culture. In fact, for two months the hotel was home to more than 70 first responders. Thirty of the same hotel staff members were on duty as Sandy made landfall.
“It’s a seasoned staff we have here,” general manager Christiaan Aldoy told ABC News.
While the lights went out and power was lost during Sandy, staff boiled hot water for guests’ baths, stayed for days to prepare hot meals and drove through the city picking up supplies.
“From behind the front desk, we ran an extension chord into the lobby and set up a table with laptops so people could send out emails and check on flights,” Aldoy said.
The hotel provided free bottles of water, free food, free wine, and even showed movies in its restaurant, Black Duck. And to ease the costs of extended stays and inconvenience of the storm, the hotel reduced rates to $150 per room, per night across the board — nearly 50 percent off the average rates for the period.
Kimber Bishop, a hotel guest during the storm, told ABC News that it was a positive experience. Although her room on the 8th floor had no power, heat or water, the hotel had a backup generator for emergency lighting in the lobby, hallways and stairways, and she never felt unsafe.
“One of the concerns you have as a traveler in a situation like this is that you really are at people’s mercy and you’re a target for people taking advantage of you,” said Bishop, 56, a healthcare consultant from Seattle and frequent traveler. “I felt like they went in the opposite direction — free water, free hot meal, free wine.”
She even made friends with several other guests who were also stranded.
“I call them my lifeboat friends,” she joked.
“They tried to make us as comfortable and entertained and safe as we could be,” Bishop continued. And, of course, compared to other people, whose entire homes were decimated in the storm, she was lucky.
“I was conscious that there were other people who really experienced disaster,” she said. “What I was experienced was inconvenience.”