AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many Central Texas hotels open for Hurricane Laura evacuees have reached capacity, forcing emergency leaders to open up the Austin Convention Center.

City and county emergency management agencies have been reviewing and altering the plan since earlier this summer to prepare for sheltering needs related to COVID-19. Rather than using large congregate shelters, part of the plan is to assign evacuees to hotels.

The City of Austin, along with Travis, Hays and Williamson counties, activated the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan and activated hotels Tuesday when evacuees received an emergency evacuation notice. By Wednesday afternoon as many as 15 hotels reached capacity, the city said.

“I just don’t know what to do … We’ve been going back and forth and don’t have a place to stay. We just want answers,” said an evacuee at the Hilton on East Sixth street.

VJ Patel with the Austin Hotel Lodging Association says the emergency market demand got to hotels before the Capital Area Shelter Hub could secure more rooms needed. Hotels aren’t staffed for 90% capacity right now because COVID-19 caused more half of these Austin-area hotels to furlough their employees.

“We wish there was a global initiative to protect this industry. At times of need, like now, this is where we need these businesses to be open and operating,” Patel said. “The good news is, some of those employees came back. I don’t think any hotels are prepared for 90% capacity, knowing it was not predicted to come until June of next year.”

Convention Center could be ready overnight

The City of Austin made the move to open up the Convention Center in response to the overflow. There will only be 135 spaces available, because of COVID-19 protocols consistent with FEMA and CDC guidelines.

The center will be a traditional shelter and provide a place for evacuees to sleep, get food and have other basic amenities.  

The field hospital located in the center, which is being for COVID-19 overflow patients, will not be impacted by hurricane evacuees. Emergency planners say they will being using Halls 1 and 2 of the center for evacuees, while the COVID-19 field hospital lives in Hall 3.

Officials hope to have the center ready for evacuees in the next six hours. The City of Austin partnered with the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Red Cross to make it happen.

The Circuit of the Americas reception site will stay open, the city says, but evacuees are not guaranteed a room if they go there.

Evacuees in the Austin area can get updates and information through texts, the city says. You can text the word “ATXShelter” to 888-777 for updates or call (512) 978-1510.