Austin mayor: Austin prepared to host 7,000 evacuees

Right now the City of Austin estimates there are 700 evacuees staying in shelters within the city. And thousands more are expected to be here looking for a place to stay in the coming days.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler appeared at the Delco Center with several officials Monday afternoon to provide an update on Harvey's local impact and how they city is responding.

Adler said that Austin is prepared to shelter thousands of evacuees. He said city officials are currently in the process of deciding where there is room. Adler confirmed that he has been asked if the city could host up to 7,000 evacuees, but it could be more.

"You know at this point I'm not sure that anyone can accurately predict the number of people that are going to need help," added Adler. "This is an unprecedented storm. It is a storm that is out to the gulf and now is going to be coming back in to make landfall again. This is a storm that just won't die."

The mayor said that he wants evacuees to know that they are safe and welcome in Austin.

Kayla Aguilar and her 6-year-old daughter Gabriella chose an Austin shelter over staying with family in Victoria after they left Port Lavaca. They are two of the nearly 200 people currently at the Delco Center.

"I'm glad because we'd be back there with nothing," Kayla said about her decision.

"We came here because we didn't want to get attacked by the hurricane," Gabriella said.

Gregory Roberson and his wife left their Bay City home last week, and this is the second time they were forced to flee to Austin.

"We've been through storms," Roberson said. "But we've never been through anything like this. The last storm we were able to go home sooner."

"We're seeing the devastation back home and we're worried if we're even gonna be able to make it back home," said Cindi Ihnen. She is eager to get back to her husband, a first responder in Pearland. "He's still rescuing people off the highway all hours of the night, so it's not safe."

Adler added officials are not checking immigration papers and that doors are open to anyone. Tuesday, the city announced Lanier High School would house evacuees and animals.

City leaders are hoping to open a "mega shelter" at the Austin Convention Center capable of housing 6,500 evacuees. 

"This is really going to be more like creating a city within a city where we can be able to take care of the guests evacuated from the Houston, Galveston, Victoria area," explained Juan Ortiz, the director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Around 550 evacuees are currently at Austin shelters, with 205 at LBJ High School and 170 at the Berger Center in addition to the people at the Delco Center.

American Red Cross Volunteer Cassandra Poling is working around the clock to make sure they'll be comfortable.

"We want to make sure that we have blankets ready and food and water," she said. " We even have a place for pets. Family members are not just standing on two feet, a lot of them have four legs."

Valerie Harris with the City of Austin called this a team effort as part of their Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan between the City of Austin, AISD and the American Red Cross.Together, volunteers stress they're ready to help anyone who needs it.

"Everybody coming off the buses is welcome," Poling said. "They do not need a form of identification. We know how to accommodate people who have been through a huge amount of stress and trauma. We make sure that they feel as comfortable and welcome regardless of what their emotional stress may be."

The mayor said that Austin has sent 26 firefighters, one water team manager, 12 boat squads, four chopper water techs, four police officers and 18 medics to Houston.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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