Waco is preparing in case it becomes a designated shelter city for Hurricane Harvey evacuees, and local organizations, churches and school districts are ready for families who head to the area on their own to escape the damage.
Shelter space for about 150 evacuees was being prepared Tuesday afternoon at Parkview Baptist Church and a Salvation Army facility, said Frank Patterson, Waco McLennan County emergency management coordinator. The city has been on standby since the storm approached the coast late last week, ready to activate shelters as requested by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Waco housed more than 1,500 people the last time it was designated as a shelter city, after Hurricane Ike in 2008, Patterson said.
“Once we tell them we’re ready, they will give us 24 hours notice before sending people here,” Patterson said.
In addition to severe damage where Harvey initially made landfall, it had dumped 51.88 inches of rain on Cedar Bayou by midafternoon Tuesday, a record for the continental U.S. It has also caused devastating flooding through much of Houston and the region.
More than 17,000 people have already traveled to designated shelters across the state, and Houston officials opened additional shelter space Tuesday evening in the Toyota Center, the Houston Rockets' arena, after the city's main shelter reached twice its intended capacity of 5,000, according to the Associated Press.
Red Cross officials estimate Harvey will force as many as 30,000 Texans into Shelters. One Dallas shelter is preparing for as many as 5,000 evacuees.
The Heart of Texas Chapter for the American Red Cross started setting up cots at local shelters Tuesday afternoon, but no timeline was in place for when the shelters might be activated, chapter executive director Amy Grace said. Patterson said he expects at least the 150 spots being prepared in Waco on Tuesday to be filled, though perhaps not immediately.
“The state, this (Tuesday) morning, still had 30,000 spots available,” he said.
Other private locations in the area, including the Latham Springs Camp and Retreat Center and the URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville are opening their doors to support people displaced by flooding.
Latham Springs was expecting almost 400 people by Monday, CEO Mike Wilson said. Evacuees ranged from 5 years old to 81, and the facility has 900 beds overall, he said Monday.
Until the state officially gives the word, the Family Abuse Center has been filling in the gaps how it can, Executive Director Kathy Reid said. The center has 64 beds for victims of domestic violence, 55 of which are full, Reid said.
The remaining space is being used to house evacuees until they can get to designated shelter space, she said.
“Our shelter is almost full, and now we are taking in families from Houston,” the center posted to its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. “We need pillows, blankets, twin bed sheets, in particular. We are ‘overflowing’ with kids.”
The shelter always needs supplies. The disaster and added strain just amplify the need, Reid said. The center is also working with the Waco Independent School District to make sure displaced children have a place to go if necessary, she said.
The district hasn't had any new enrollment because of the hurricane yet, but it is ready as the need arises, spokesman Kyle Debeer said.
The Salvation Army of Waco has alerted the district’s homeless coordinator that shelters could be activated soon, but there is no way to know how many new students might arrive, Debeer said.
“As more families displaced by the storm settle in this area, we’re more likely to have their student enrolling in our schools,” Debeer said. “While we expect more students potentially to enroll, I don’t know there’s a concrete number at this point.”
The district will work with families who may have fled without proper documentation and will focusing on returning a sense of normalcy for students, he said.
Displaced students will also be immediately connected with counselors to help with the transition, and the district’s homeless outreach office will provide school supplies, backpacks and clothes as long as it has supplies to offer, Debeer said.
Other districts, from Moody ISD to Midway ISD, are following similar protocols in case families relocate to McLennan County, and Lorena ISD has already enrolled at least one student, officials said Monday.
Moody Superintendent Gary Martel said he experienced hurricanes when he knows first-hand the type of struggles school officials along the coast are facing.
“I grew up and lived along the coast for a number of years. I went through four different hurricanes as an athletic director and a superintendent: Allison, Rita, Gustav and Ike,” Martel said. “Many of my family members live in the Beaumont and Houston areas and they are currently safe, but dealing with issues I am not currently in Central Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone.”
Martel has been in constant contact with a group of superintendents in areas hit by Harvey, he said.
“They know we stand ready to help as needed,” he said.
McLennan Community College will also work with students displaced from colleges in hurricane-damaged areas to offer courses that fit with their original study plans, according to a press release from MCC.
“McLennan's college and university colleagues across the state are responding to their students, employees, and constituents in phenomenal ways,” MCC President Johnette McKown said in the release. “President Betty McCrohan, from Wharton County Junior College, shared they are doing OK, but are uncertain about what will occur when the river crests.
"She said there is likely to be a significant impact on their enrollment and revenue, and she has never seen such widespread devastation. Sitting here in Waco, I have wanted MCC to help. We are hopeful that our plan might assist some students as they pursue their dreams.”
The city-owned Waco Animal Shelter is also clearing space for animals evacuees bring in once Waco is designated as a shelter city, said Don Bland, the executive director of Humane Society of Central Texas.
The shelter is working with local veterinarians to house dogs in the process of spay or neuter surgery, and officials are asking foster volunteers to take as many animals as possible.
“We’re also asking for people to come in and adopt,” he said.
The Heart of Texas chapter of the American Red Cross is accepting donations, Grace, the executive director, said. Monetary donations and volunteering time are the most effective ways to help, and the Red Cross will also accept bottled water and store-bought, individually-wrapped snacks, she said.
“A lot of these evacuees won’t be able to get home for a while," Grace said of evacuees across the state. "It’s going to be a long-term sheltering proposition until they can get home or find somewhere else they can get to."
The Heart of Texas chapter alone will need 30 to 50 people to work from about 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays through next week.
“We could use some warm, fuzzy humans,” she said. “We just need people in the office to welcome those who come by.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Red Cross can call Grace directly at 447-1625, she said.