With memories of Hurricane Harvey still fresh, Gulf Coast evacuees find refuge in Austin


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bus after bus filled the parking lot of the Circuit of the Americas race track on Tuesday as hundreds of Gulf Coast hurricane evacuees sought refuge in Austin.

Rick Abbott, the chief operating officer for the Circuit of the Americas, a Formula 1 track in southeast Austin, said approximately 400 busloads of evacuees were expected on Tuesday. From there, evacuees will be shuttled to one of 15 hotels in the Austin area that partnered with emergency services.

“Anything we can do to help the city and the state out, we’re going to do it,” said Abbott.

Mandatory evacuations are in place for Chambers, Jasper, Jefferson, Newton, and Orange counties along with the cities of Galveston and Port Arthur. Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall late Wednesday.

The City of Austin, in collaboration with Travis, Hays, and Williamson counties, is prepared to serve as many as 3,000 hurricane evacuees. Because of risks tied to COVID-19, hotels, instead of shelters, are being used to house evacuees.

For many evacuees that made their way to Austin, flashbacks of Hurricane Harvey are impossible to ignore even three years later.

“I’m really hoping and praying for the best because nobody wants to go home and find out that they’ve lost everything. Again,” Sharletta Keller told KXAN.

In caravan three cars long, Joseph Middleton and his family left Galveston for Austin early Tuesday morning but some stayed behind.

“I’m worried about my momma and a couple of my relatives,” Middleton said.

Middleton is thankful for the Austin community that opened its doors.

“Y’all are doing a good job. Thanks for welcoming us in. We got to stick together, man,” he said.

Emergency Officials Activate Shelter Plan

The City of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management teamed up with Travis, Williamson and Hays counties to activate the Central Texas Shelter Hub Plan Tuesday.

Emergency officials said they’ll provide services virtually and offer a hotline for evacuees to receive daily updates as well as provide evacuees three meals a day. For those who have issues connecting, staff will be able to help.

Bryce Bencivengo with the City of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said because of the COVID-19 pandemic they have been working on this plan earlier this summer to make adjustments.

“Everything has had to be reimagined, everything is new ideas, nothing is exactly the same but a lot of it is we’re still providing services and we want people to have a safe place but there are new things, there are new pieces to making sure that that place is putting people in is safe,” he said.

Officials are not sharing the location of the hotels and said they do not know how long the hotels will be needed but will keep them open until people can safely return home.

The state will reimburse costs.

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