Monday, October 3

Hotel manager opens heart, doors

When disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita strike, customers expect Entergy to restore their power quickly and efficiently.

Likewise, Entergy counts on its customers to step up to help support the power company during trying times.

Enter Patricia Philmon. She’s the long-time general manager of the Richmond Suites Best Western on the outskirts of Lake Charles. Philmon is no stranger to disasters or Entergy. She is among the first to make sure the utility workers have a hot shower and a comfortable bed after long hours of restoring power to anxious residents.

Rita, however, was no ordinary storm. It left more than 700,000 Entergy Louisiana and Texas customers without power and caused devastation to the transmission and distribution systems.

“When Katrina hit, I offered the motel to all Louisiana evacuees,” she said. “We had about 500 people staying in the 140 rooms. Our staff had made them comfortable and they were settled in.

“Then we started getting reports about Rita. Like all Calcasieu Parish residents I started monitoring the storm’s path. Finally, when the order came to evacuate the parish, I had to break the news to all the evacuees. They understood. I told them to take what belongings they had. Don’t worry about the rooms and leave. They all had transportation and left town.”

Finally, at 9 p.m. Friday, Philmon, her 11-year-old daughter Tiffany and husband Jake loaded their van and headed to Shreveport, normally a three-hour drive. Some nine hours later they arrived at a Best Western to ride out the storm before returning to Lake Charles.

A few hours later the phone call she was expecting came. It was from Clyde Mitchell, an Entergy Louisiana senior account executive.

“He said, ‘Patricia, we need rooms.’ I said, ‘Clyde, I’m in Shreveport and don’t know if the motel is still standing.’ Clyde told me that the motel had survived. I told him I’d get back with him quickly.”

Philmon and her boss made a quick trip back to Lake Charles to survey the damage and began preparing rooms for awaiting utility workers from across the country. By Sunday night, she was back in Shreveport and preparing to drive her husband and daughter back to Lake Charles. They arrived Monday at 6 a.m., and with no sleep went to work cleaning 140 rooms.

“You can image what was in those rooms,” Philmon said, holding her nose while explaining the smell from left-behind food. “It was almost unbearable. The temperature was above 100 degrees. All of my staff had evacuated so it was left to my daughter and me to clean all the rooms.”

For the next two days, the family worked 16-18 hour days, grabbing what little sleep in the back of their van, eating Deviled Ham and crackers and drinking water.

Philmon also had to solve one more problem. The computerized key card system to open doors won’t work without electricity. She managed to purchase a key machine from a local Radio Shack and spent a long night making 140 keys. By Thursday afternoon, Philmon could finally take a break while waiting for the generators to arrive.

Last Saturday, Philmon opened her heart to Entergy. Now, she’s ready to open the doors.

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