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Travel industry scrambles ahead of Hurricane Irene

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There's a storm coming: airlines have grounded more than 2,400 flights in the run-up to Hurricane Irene.

Hurricane Irene is set to pass through seven major airports this weekend.

That's going to make this a busy weekend for businesses that cater to travelers.

Lou Lemos is President of BTI Travel in Syracuse. He says his agency is fielding a lot of calls from worried travelers looking to change flight and hotel reservations.

Over 2,400 flights have been canceled as of this afternoon. East Coast businesses are also having to move quickly to help travelers scrambling to get out out of the way of the storm.

Lemos says hotels in the path of the hurricane are  releasing people from their reservations.

"The airlines have already - two days ago - started giving us permission to redo the flights with no cost to the client if they're in the markets where the hurricane is headed or even possibly headed," Lemos says. 

In at least one case, he's had to help a family trying to fly into the path of the storm - heading back home early from an island in the Caribbean, to batten down their house on Long Island.

"They wanted to leave early to get home ahead of the hurricane to be able to close up their house and be able to take furniture and stuff that's up in their yard. The airlines allowed it and they're coming home."

Lemos says if it were him, he would probably have stayed on his Caribbean vacation.

Heavy blow

With all those people stuck at home, or stuck on vacation, Bloomberg reports Hurricane Irene will deal a heavy economic blow:

Projected costs from air-traffic interruptions are among those used by Kinetic Analysis Corp. in estimating $20 billion in overall economic losses from Irene, including missed work time, power failures and shipping disruptions. The firm forecast $13.9 billion in insured losses. The last storm of this magnitude to menace the Northeast was 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, which killed 11 people and caused $900 million in damage. Irene is on a similar track, potentially affecting all six of the largest U.S. airlines, a group led by United, Delta and AMR Corp. (AMR)’s American.

Has your world already been rocked by Irene? Got any big hurricane plans? Let us know in the comments.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.