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Inside Houston shelter, a loud and sometimes chaotic night

Published:Tuesday | August 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM
People rest at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston yesterday.


With more guests than cots, some people slept on chairs or the floor. People hung towels and wet clothes on the base of the ceiling supports. Police officers guarded several entrances. Outside, dozens of people still awake stood with their pets and traded cigarettes.

People who escaped rising floodwaters and pouring rain spawned by Harvey arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Monday night by the busload and truckload even as the convention centre exceeded its capacity of 5,000. The second night inside the centre was louder, more crowded and, at times, more chaotic, and even more people arrived yesterday.

At one point, officers tended to two men lying unresponsive in front of an exit, pushing away onlookers. The men had taken drugs and would both recover within an hour.

Frustration grew in some places, more than three days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane before transforming into a tropical storm that currently sits parked over the Gulf of Mexico ahead of an expected return to shore. One person said she had only got one meal Monday while watching others take several helpings of food.

Another person, Kevin Perkins, described sleeping on the floor and feeling accosted by police officers inside.

"It's hell," Perkins said. He shook his head and walked away as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, during a visit to the convention centre Monday, approached near where he was standing.

"All my stuff damaged. I have no clothes, no shoes, no nothing," he said.

The din inside eventually fell as thousands of people went to bed. About 9,000 people were in the convention centre by Tuesday morning, according to the Red Cross. With no cots left, some people laid out towels, blankets and strips of cardboard.

Crippled by floodwaters

Hurricane Harvey was expected to drop more rain yesterday on Houston, a city crippled by floodwaters that have swamped streets and neighbourhoods. The demands on the George R. Brown Convention Center were expected to grow, even while a new shelter opened Monday night and city officials considered opening more.

New volunteers arrived through the night. David Brady, CEO of the Red Cross' Texas Gulf Coast chapter, said that the volunteers were critical to making sure evacuees "feel comfortable here, and that they're willing and wanting to pull those cots together".

"If we get our staff to be friendly and open and welcoming, hopefully, that will create a culture with the folks who are staying in the shelter to do the same thing," Brady said.

For Howard Thomas, the shelter was a place of last resort.

Thomas described himself as living on the streets. He had spent the three previous nights at a $55-a-night motel. But he ran out of money Monday morning.

He was picked up from the motel and taken to the convention centre, where he waited to check in carrying just a blue tote bag with his belongings.

"I'm hoping I can get a place of my own, even if it's just a one-room shack, just as long as I'm out of the elements, off the street," he said.