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Hotels in Joplin Operating at Full Capacity, Making Special Arrangements

With thousands of homes destroyed in the May 22 Joplin tornado, many hotels are serving as a temporary residence for displaced families. But as KSMU’s Justin Lux reports, hotels are operating at full capacity - and many are having to stay in other towns.

Karla Sego is the manager of the USA Inn in Mount Vernon and is seeing customers from all ends of the spectrum.

“Well I had a couple, a man and a woman, that stayed here for almost two weeks, I don’t know if it was exactly. Then I had a veteran here a couple weeks ago that had to had to stay for atleast 4 or 5 days. I’ve had other ones that came in and wanted to stay, but unfortunately a lot of them couldn’t afford any of the prices,” Sego explained.

Sego explains that while all of her guests face different problems, the one constant is that they’ve been brought together by the situation in Joplin.

“The couple that stayed here lost their home and the veteran gentleman lost everything, his vehicle and his home. Then I’ve had workers and all kinds of people come down and stay here to help,” she says.

Other hotels continue to welcome displaced families. But Dianne Ely, who is the front office manager at Best Western Big Spring Lodge in Neosho, says she has been amazed at how many of her hotel guests are just there to help Joplin recover.

“We had some FEMA people here, but mostly it was just your ordinary, run of the mill, good-hearted citizen who said, ‘I want to go help,’” Ely said

With so many of the residents coming for extended stays, hotels have had to step back and take a look at their operations.

“You’re talking about taking a family who are used to day-to-day living in their own home and have now been relocated to a hotel or a different facility.”

That’s Pete Hall who is the president of the Southwest Missouri Lodging Association, as well as the general manager of the Residence Inn in Joplin. He says hotels have had to adjust to provide a pleasant environment for the guests.

“You just work very hard to make them feel at home, to get your arms around them and to do everything that you can to give them a sense of comfort,” Hall says.

He said his hotel has made accommodations for people pets.

And many of the hotels, like Ely’s Best Western, have opened direct billing accounts with insurance companies, meaning that displaced families have one less headache to worry about: paperwork.

For KSMU News, I’m Justin Lux.