In Texas, Harvey Forces Tens Of Thousands Into Shelters

Aug 31, 2017
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In Texas, flooding and damage from Harvey has forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes. The largest shelter in Houston is the downtown convention center, and NPR's Adrian Florido has spent time there today. Hi, Adrian.


SHAPIRO: Capacity at the George R. Brown Convention Center is supposed to be 5,000 people, and I understand two nights ago the number of people there was roughly double that. What was the scene today?

FLORIDO: Yeah, well, that's right. Two nights ago, there were about 10,000 people here. But a couple of things have brought that number down to about 6,000 as of this afternoon. The first is that a lot of people are simply going home - right? - after several days in the shelter. They're ready to leave and to go assess the damage to their homes and start trying to rebuild.

The other thing is that the city has opened a second mega shelter, as they're calling it, in a sports arena south of downtown, and it's got a capacity for up to 10,000 people. So that's relieved some of the pressure on this big shelter right in downtown Houston.

SHAPIRO: Do you get the sense that everyone who needs shelter can find it?

FLORIDO: My sense is that, yes - right? - because not only are these two big Red Cross shelters here in the center of the city. There are also a couple of hundred shelters run by private organizations like churches and mosques and community centers all across the city and throughout sort of the affected area of Texas. So for scale, I think of the need, you know, and how many people have been needing shelter. Listen to what Tony Briggs from the Red Cross told me.

TONY BRIGGS: So we have in Texas 33,000 folks who have stayed in Red Cross or city-affiliated shelters. We're not sure where that number is going right now because people - some people are still actually being rescued who have been cut off. And we're just here. And our doors are open, and our doors are open for everyone.

FLORIDO: So even though it's been a couple of days since Harvey passed by Houston, Ari, the eastern parts of the state are still dealing with flooding. So it's - there's still a lot of need in other parts of the state.

SHAPIRO: You also said some people are starting to return home. Are there parts of the city where the flood water has receded? Are people feeling that it's safe to be out and about?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean so there are still some parts of Houston near the rivers and bayous specifically that are still flooded and dangerous. But at this point, most of the neighborhoods in the city are no longer under water. So yeah, a lot of families are going back home. I met a guy named Max Gonzalez (ph) outside of the convention center here, and he was waiting to be picked up. And he had a cart full of stuff. And listen to what he had to say.

MAX GONZALEZ: All this stuff right here - when we came here, we only had one bag when we got here, man. And that was from - that was my daughter's diaper bag. But this is all the stuff that they've given us here at the George R. Brown Convention Center - blankets, clothes, pillows, food, snacks, diapers, wipes - everything, man. They've blessed us and gave us everything.

FLORIDO: So Max lost everything when his apartment flooded. He lost absolutely everything. The only things he owns now are these things that he got at the convention center. Nonetheless, he just was really happy to go home, and he was excited that the water was gone from his neighborhood so that he could get back and start trying to rebuild.

SHAPIRO: You said there about 6,000 people at the convention center right now. Does it feel pretty orderly? What's it like in there?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean considering the number of people, it's been remarkably orderly. There are sleeping and living areas. There are separate areas for eating. The health department has set up a big clinic. There are also a lot of advocacy and nonprofit organizations that have set up to provide services to folks. And so - and it was actually - one of the things that struck me is that most of the people I spoke with said that they, although they don't prefer to stay in a shelter, have been really impressed with how pleasant the experience has been considering the circumstances.

SHAPIRO: And for people whose homes are completely uninhabitable, is this sustainable for perhaps weeks or more?

FLORIDO: I mean look; most people are trying to leave as soon as possible, and they're doing everything they can to leave quickly. A lot of people have already been leaving today. But I did speak with a lot of folks who have nowhere to go. I mean they lost everything and didn't have a lot of savings, you know, don't have insurance. The Red Cross told me that they're going to be here as long as they're needed. And if this shelter has to shut down, they'll find other places to house people.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Adrian Florido speaking with us from Houston. Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.