AUSTIN – Welcome kits. Mega shelters. Live music.
Cities and North Texas continued preparing Friday, Texas style, to accommodate the thousands of evacuees fleeing Harvey’s destruction in nearby Houston and southeast Texas.
Busloads and planeloads of evacuees began arriving this week at Dallas-area shelters, as well as shelters set up in Austin, San Marcos, Bastrop, Smithville and Marble Falls.
In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler urged residents to put together “welcome kits” for evacuees that included towels, toothbrushes, blankets, pillows and a handwritten note of encouragement for Harvey survivors. In one day, the city received 639 of the kits. More are streaming in.
“Pretty amazing response,” Adler said Friday. “It really does make you feel good about this city.”
With tens of thousands of people displaced from flood- and wind-ruined homes in Southeast Texas, many of them are expected to fan out across the state.
In a Thursday conference call with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other mayors, Turner expressed his city’s need for items like toiletries, cleaning supplies and diapers, as well as cash for rebuilding and recovery efforts, Adler said. Houston has set up a hurricane relief fund drive through the Greater Houston Community Foundation (www.ghcf.org)
But the expected number of evacuees headed to other Texas cities is dropping due to displaced residents choosing to stay in unaffected areas closer to Houston, Adler said.
Austin officials were initially told to expect 7,000 evacuees but that number dropped to between 1,500 and 2,000, he said. Officials are readying a large vacant office building in the southeast part of the city for those evacuees.
“People are choosing or finding ways to stay closer to home,” Adler said.
Besides warm meals and blankets, evacuees in Austin will also be getting a steady dose of live music. In a move fitting for the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin musicians have volunteered in droves to play live music at shelters for the thousands of incoming evacuees in the Texas capital.
When the city’s music and entertainment division put out a call earlier this week for volunteer musicians to play at area shelters, more than 300 performers stepped up, from ukulele players to D.J.s “Due to the overwhelming response we have received from interested performers, we have been advised that there [are] no unmet needs for live music at the shelters at this time,” department officials said in a statement.
In Dallas, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center downtown was transformed into a "mega-shelter," capable of receiving 5,000 evacuees. On Thursday, those gathered there got a surprise visit from members of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
More than 9,000 locals have also registered to volunteer at Dallas-area shelters, Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a Tweet.
“We are using every resource available to assist evacuees,” he wrote. “Our priority is protecting and sheltering our fellow Texans.”
On Thursday, Fort Worth city officials welcomed 179 evacuees from Beaumont and other ravaged Gulf Coast cities to the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on the city’s south side, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Fort Worth Convention Center was equipped to handle thousands of more evacuees but hadn’t been opened.
In Austin, collection drives sprouted up across the city. The Austin Chapter of the American Outlaws, a national club that supports U.S. soccer, urged its members to bring toiletries, diapers and new blankets to a local restaurant where the group planned to gather Friday and watch the U.S. men’s soccer team play Costa Rica.
Josh Molleur, one of the organizers, loaded cases of water and toilet paper onto a U-Haul truck, as members arrived with supplies. Later, the group will drive the truck directly to one of the impacted areas, either Beaumont, Port Arthur or Rockport, he said.
“If I was somebody who was displaced, a fresh blanket or new pillow would mean the world to me,” Molleur said.