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September 18, 1999
Good Samaritans Open Up Their Hotels To Victims of Hurricane Floyd
As Hurricane Floyd tore through South Carolina, causing widespread flooding and rendering 330,000 homes powerless and sending thousands of people into shelters, Suren Shah forgot about his losses -- and like many other Indian hotel and motel owners across the Carolinas and in neighboring states, he opened his hotels to the needy.
For Shah, the owner of Holiday Inn Express and 15 other properties in the Carolinas and Georgia, this part of the year has always been a time of full occupancy. But he was not going to charge the victims of the hurricane.
"I dislike greed," 55-year-old Shah said. "I don't want to be in a position of taking advantage of poor people, needy people and lost people."
Shah has lived in South Carolina for 30 years and been in the hotel business for 19 of those years.
This week, in the spirit of caring, Shah sent faxes to managers on all his properties, giving them instructions to help people. He composed the letter while watching news broadcasts with the dire warning that the hurricane was expected to heap devastation on the Carolinas.
'Should you run into a situation where a person may need shelter and can't afford to pay,' Shah wrote. 'You are to be good Samaritans of your community.'
Scores of motels and hotels in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia suffered huge losses because of the hurricane. At least half the motels and hotels in the economy sectors are run by Indian Americans.
Many people spent hours in clogged traffic driving to upstate South Carolina because it was a safe haven. By Thursday, the rooms in all Shah's properties were almost filled to capacity.
"It's the least I can do. It was my duty to the community," said Shah who would not reveal how much money he has forfeited because of this community service.
"It is something he has always done, but quietly. That is the way it should be, especially in difficult times," said his wife Leena, 54, who is also his partner in the business.
During Hurricane Hugo, Leena said the couple set up extra beds in the conference rooms of their hotels for people to sleep in and served them tea or coffee -- all at no cost.
"It is very tempting for retailers of these chains to raise costs at such a time. It is understandable, but we have a strong sense of right and wrong,'' she said.
It is an attitude that has earned them many friends in the state.
"They are pillars of the community. They can be counted on whenever anything is needed," said Rajesh Patel, 47, a businessman and community leader.
"I can't began to count how many times we have used the conference rooms for fund-raisers or how many times people have stayed free or at discounted rates at their lodgings," Patel said.
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