AUSTIN, Texas - Overnight, evacuees from the Gulf Coast filled up all the available hotel shelter space in Austin.
The city said they are now working to stand up a more traditional shelter at the Convention Center. However, capacity will need to be limited there in order to keep people socially distanced.
Austin city officials said more than 3,000 evacuees traveled to the Capital City seeking shelter from the storm.
“More than we anticipated. So our resources at this point, hotels, stretched kind of thin. We’re urging folks, as they’re leaving and coming to Austin, that if they want a hotel room that the easiest way might be to stay on the road just a little bit more, get up north towards Dallas because there are a lot of hotel rooms that are available,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
“Called Dallas, they’re full. We called San Antonio, they don’t have no rooms. Everywhere we call, no rooms,” said Sharlette Kirks, an evacuee from Beaumont.
All of the 1,000 hotels secured as shelter spaces in Austin are also full. So the city turned to plan B.
“We made the decision to go ahead and open a section of the Convention Center in a traditional shelter setting,” said Juan Ortiz, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Austin.
While staff scours the city for hotels to take in evacuees, they also work to create a safety plan for a congregate shelter during a pandemic.
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“The goal for the convention center is, we’re looking to establish a shelter capacity of approximately 135 shelter spaces in order to make sure that we stay consistent with the recommendations from FEMA and the CDC as they relate to covid,” Ortiz said.
The shelter will be in a separate part of the convention center than the alternate care facility set up to provide medical attention to covid patients should hospitals need additional capacity. So far, that care facility has not been needed in Austin, but city staff continue to prepare for that scenario as well as the possibility that Hurricane Laura will send more people West as it approaches the coast.
“So there may be an additional number of evacuees that we may need to be able to support, especially depending on where it makes landfall and what the impacts of the storm are going to be,” said Ortiz.
When Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast three years ago, Austin took in about 850 evacuees. Hurricane Laura has yet to even make landfall and already the city has sheltered more than 3,000 people.