Wildfires devastate Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Wildfires have devastated some of Tennessee’s most popular travel destinations.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed due to the intense and unpredictable fires, which are the result of what firefighters are characterizing as a “perfect storm” of drought and high winds gusting up to 70 mph. The town of Gatlinburg has been evacuated, with approximately 14,000 people hitting the road ahead of flames and dangerously thick smoke; residents and visitors in Pigeon Forge, home to the Dollywood theme park, are also leaving the area. At Dollywood, staff evacuated park cabins and the DreamMore Resort, with local county school buses providing emergency transportation.
My colleague Laura Brown, Senior Product Manager, Advertising, at Lonely Planet USA and Budget Travel, went to college in east Tennessee and provided some firsthand insight into what this fire feels like: “To watch the news about the fire is heartbreaking - not just the devastation to Gatlinburg, which is a gem on its own, but the fire tore through some of my favorite trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those trails feel like friends.”
The situation is evolving, and the only certainty at press time is that the damage to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to downtown Gatlinburg, two places that are dear to Budget Travelers across the U.S., is severe. The most recent reports are that Gatlinburg has lost around 150 buildings to fire, with some additional structures still burning. We’ll learn more about the state of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from park rangers in the near future, and we urge fans of the park to bear in mind that fire is a natural part of the resilient forest ecosystem.
If you’d like to help evacuees, Tennessean.com, the website of The Tennessean newspaper, has published the following ways to donate:
* Yassin's Falafel House is collecting cases of water and Gatorade in the public parking lot adjacent to 706 Walnut Street in downtown Knoxville from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. [Tuesday November 29] or until the truck is full.
* Barker Lounge at 1301 Main Street in Sevierville and Blount County Animal Control at 233 Currie Avenue in Maryville are taking displaced animals and need animal related supplies including food and crates.
* The Knoxville Expo Center is accepting donations at 5441 Clinton Hwy, Knoxville, TN 37912
* TheYMCA in East Tennessee is accepting donations at all locations.
* Remote Area Medical is accepting donations at is headquarters at 2220 Stock Creek Boulevard in Rockford.
* Lafollette Church of God at 1906 Jacksboro Pike, LaFollette, is accepting food and water donations.
* Blount Partnership, at 201 S. Washington Street in Maryville and Townsend Visitors Center at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway are accepting donations for water and food for animals and more.
* Christ the Rock Church of God is collecting food and water donations at 4306 Washington Pike in Knoxville.
How to Help Haiti
As many of you know, Hurricane Matthew hit the southwest region of Haiti this week, displacing more than 15,000 people, killing several hundred, and causing an immediate need for emergency help for around 350,000 people, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and it is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake and the resulting humanitarian crisis, Hurricane Matthew is expected to trigger serious health challenges, including the rise of cholera in the coming days. Partners in Health, a humanitarian nonprofit organization endorsed by major news outlets, supports 12 health centers in Haiti’s central region. At press time, the organization was working to get additional supplies to those centers, as well as to cholera-treatment centers. “Though the storm has passed, experience tells us that the worst is yet to come,” said Dr. Charles-Patrick Almazor, Partners in Health’s chief medical officer in Haiti, in a statement on the organization’s website. “What would be the immediate need is to make sure that people get safe drinking water and safe water for washing.” While Budget Travelers care deeply about every region affected by this devastating hurricane, including the Bahamas and the Florida coast, we especially wish to support the neediest victims. Click here to make a donation to Partners in Health's efforts in Haiti, where 94 percent of all donations go directly to those in need.
Pizza Party! Delta Buys Pies for Rerouted Passengers
Fact: Pizza makes everything better. Even flight delays. On Wednesday, passengers on Delta flight 802 from Atlanta to NYC's LaGuardia airport got a tasty surprise when their flight was rerouted due to bad weather: boxes upon boxes of pizza pies and bottled water waiting for them when they de-planed in Syracuse, New York. Watch the video, reported by the Weather Channel, here. This isn't the first time Delta Air Lines has bought pizza for its passengers. Back in May, the airline's crews placed orders when weather delayed more than 650 flights. Same with storms in Atlanta this past November—flight attendants passed out slices from the aisle. Delta's dough-licious behavior can be traced back several years. In 2013, station managers arranged for a cop car to pull up and deliver 60 pizzas to a plane stuck on the tarmac for hours in Boston. Not too long before that, 160 pizzas were delivered to a Delta plane delayed in Savannah. Back then, a Delta spokesman told USA TODAY, "Delta can't control the weather, but we can control how we respond to weather delays and irregular operations. In situations like these, Delta people have the decision-making power to take care of our customers — even having pizza delivered plane-side."
U.S. Will Resume Commercial Flights to Cuba
For the first time in more than 50 years, U.S. commercial flights to Cuba will soon become a reality. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement in Havana on Tuesday setting the stage for U.S. carriers to submit applications to operate commercial flights, with new routes likely in a matter of months. At present, the only flights between the U.S. and Cuba are charter flights, such as those operated by Cuba Travel Services partnering with JetBlue. Ready to visit Cuba? Well, it's not yet as simple as buying a plane ticket. Travel by U.S. tourists is still restricted, but the Treasury Department has expanded the categories under which Americans are allowed to visit the communist-ruled island, including exceptions for artists and journalists, those visiting family, and people-to-people education programs (we like package tours like those offered by Friendly Planet and Intrepid Travel). The resumption of commercial flights is another big step toward opening Cuba to American travelers. Last fall, we knew that commercial flights were on the horizon, and that played a role in our naming Cuba our No. 3 “Where to Go in 2016” destination. If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, check out our latest video, “A Gorgeous Day in the Life of Cuba,” above.
The Rockefeller Center Tree Arrived Today!
Budget Travel was on the scene as this year's Rockefeller Center holiday tree made an impressive arrival in NYC this morning! Actually, I happened to be at 30 Rock for Budget Travel's AMHQ segment, "Take Control of Weather-Related Travel Delays." But as a native New Yorker who grew up visiting Rockefeller Center as a little boy (my dad worked for NBC TV), it was a thrill to see the freshly cut behemoth up close like this. Turns out the tree and I had both commuted from the Hudson Valley this morning: The 10-ton, 78-foot Norway Spruce journeyed 80 miles in a flatbed truck from the Gardiner, NY, home of Albert Asendorf and Nancy Puchalski. Rockefeller Center has celebrated the holiday season every year since 1931 with a massive tree. The elaborate process of safely positioning and decorating the tree will culminate in a festive December 2 lighting ceremony. Check back with Budget Travel's This Just In blog throughout the holiday season for tips and updates about visiting NYC and other holiday hotspots!