A local reception center for Hurricane Harvey evacuees will open Sunday in anticipation of displaced South Texas in need of shelter and assistance, city officials said Friday.

“We are putting signs out on highways and are posting notices on social media to communicate under the direction of the state that we are on self-evacuee notice,” City of Waco spokesman Larry Holze said. “We have been told to be ready on Sunday afternoon and we will be responsive to that at our reception center.”

Officials will open the Church of the Open Door, 900 N. Loop 340, on Sunday afternoon as a reception area to direct evacuees to shelters or other needed resources. The Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management received a request from the state Friday to activate a shelter plan for self-evacuees.

“This will not be a shelter evacuation hub where they bring buses and buses of evacuees in,” Holze said. “We are putting out a self-evacuee notice at the reception center, and from there, we will see if people do need sheltering or if they need other resources for the time being.”

The city has established four shelters in Waco and will direct evacuees to those undisclosed locations if overnight shelter is needed, Holze said. He declined to identify the locations, saying the process is more efficient if evacuees register at the reception center first.

People with pets will be allowed to find shelter for their pets, and families will be accommodated as needed.

City shelters have been on standby since late last week when Harvey was approaching the coast. The storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane and dumped record-breaking rain along much of the coastal region.

The shelters are managed by The American Red Cross. Volunteers who have received mandatory training will see to their needs.

Since the shelters will accept self-evacuees, it is unclear how many people will seek assistance locally, McLennan County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Patterson said.

“In discussions with the state, they believe there will be more people self-evacuating over the next few days or weeks because there is no infrastructure to support them in those areas,” Patterson said. “The state still knows things are flooded, still are doing rescues and evacuations, so even as the water recedes in Houston, there will be additional people who couldn’t get out. People will need help.”

Holze agreed, saying the self-evacuation number is unpredictable, but hub shelters have not seen the influx of refugees that was expected. He said he knows displaced residents want to stay close to home, but Waco will be willing to help when needed.

“That is a really hard gauge to give, but the hub shelters, like Dallas, San Antonio, and even in Bell County, do not have a large amount of people showing up at those,” Holze said. “We don’t know how many people are out there looking for help, but right now, there is no way to know how many will come to the reception center.”

Ongoing relief efforts

According to the Associated Press, an estimated 156,000 homes have been damaged in the Houston area. Locally, residents have been offering support and donations through nonprofits including the Red Cross and Salvation Army for the past week, as well as through several independent efforts.

At least 11 students from hurricane-affected areas have enrolled in McLennan County school districts, administrations told the Tribune-Herald on Friday. Many displaced families are staying with local residents before they return home to see the effects of the storm.

Salvation Army in Waco deployed volunteers, staff, food and equipment to Victoria earlier this week to assist with relief efforts. The local Salvation Army canteen served 800 meals, 1,000 drinks and 100 snacks in Port Lavaca on Thursday, according to an update from Maj. Anita Caldwell.

In the last three days, Salvation Army canteens have served people from Vidor, Spring, Houston, Victoria, Anahauc, Dayton, San Leon, Alvin, Pearland, Port Arthur, Caldwell said.

The Salvation Army is no longer taking clothing donations, instead referring people to local churches that are accepting clothes to be sent to the area. Cash donations and checks should have “Hurricane Harvey” written on them.

City and county officials said local efforts from McLennan County residents have been inspiring. Patterson said communities will continue to welcome evacuees as long as the recovery continues.

“I think the state of Texas has responded very well, collectively, as a state,” Patterson said. “I think we have done a very good job as a community with great volunteers, great citizens and great support from all different levels.”

For local residents wanting to donate to the effort, a list of agencies and specific items needed is available on the city’s evacuee page at www.waco-texas.com/information-release-2.asp.

Act Locally Waco also has an extensive list of opportunities to help with the relief effort and other Hurricane Harvey information that has been updated regularly since Aug. 28, at www.actlocallywaco.org/wacoharvey-help.

According to the city:

  • The Salvation Army is accepting canned food and gift cards for food or gas
  • Highland Baptist Church is accepting sheets for all bed sizes, slightly worn clothes, bleach, personal toiletries and hygiene products
  • Robinson Church of Christ is accepting humidifiers, fans, interior and exterior extension cords and cleaning supplies
  • Bubba’s 33 Restaurant is accepting water, sports drinks, baby supplies, blankets, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, pillows, towels, personal hygiene products and trash bags
  • Family of Faith Worship Center is accepting water, cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, trash bags, blankets, hygiene products
  • Faith in Action is accepting toiletries, first aid items, one gallon Ziploc bags filled with bath soap, lotion, shampoo, deoderant, wash cloths, combs, brushes, facial tissue, shaving cream, razors, tootbrushes, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products
  • Lorena ISD is accepting paper goods, diapers and school supplies
  • The Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is accepting diapers, toiletries, water, baby clothes, socks and underwear in original packaging, phone chargers, hand sanitizer, blankets and monetary donations.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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