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Austin To Shelter Hurricane Laura Evacuees In Convention Center As Set-Aside Hotel Rooms Fill Up

Officials say 135 shelter spaces will be set up at the Austin Convention Center for Hurricane Laura evacuees.
Officials say 135 shelter spaces will be set up at the Austin Convention Center for Hurricane Laura evacuees.

The City of Austin is working to open a portion of the convention center to serve as a shelter for Hurricane Laura evacuees.

The shelter will be a place for evacuees to sleep and get food and other basic amenities. It should open around 2 a.m. Thursday morning and will have 135 shelter spaces that follow CDC and FEMA guidelines for safe distancing during the pandemic, officials said. 

The  alternate care site for COVID-19 patients that’s already set up at the convention center won’t be impacted.

Both the city and Travis County have issued disaster declarations in response to the hurricane. The declarations enable them to access more resources to support evacuees.

Local governments in Central Texas have been working to put evacuees in hotel rooms as part of the  Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan, an emergency operation that was also used during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Hotels available through the Capital Area partnership reached capacity earlier Wednesday, but officials say there may still be hotels in the area available to evacuees who can pay for rooms themselves.

Officials are encouraging evacuees to head to the Dallas area and Ellis County for additional funded sheltering options. They can call 211 or Austin 311 (512-974-2000) for help in finding the next closest option.

“We’re urging folks as they’re leaving and coming to Austin that if they want a hotel room, the easiest way might be to stay on the road just a little bit more and get up north toward Dallas,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a news conference, adding that more evacuees arrived than anticipated.

More than 3,000 evacuees have been put in 1,078 hotel rooms, Juan Ortiz, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Austin, said during the news conference. He noted the hurricane hasn’t made landfall yet and more people could be coming. The Circuit of the Americasis being used as a place where people evacuating the coast can go to get information about what options are available.

As part of the regional response, Austin Public Health has set up a medical shelter to address individuals' medical needs, APH Director Stephanie Hayden said. Health officials will also provide masks to evacuees who need them. 

“The goal is to work through these systems in the convention center and the medical shelter to address any medical needs that any of our guests have,” she said. “Our goal is to truly be Texans and share in this responsibility.”

People can find updates on the storm and places to get assistance at Officials are directing evacuees seeking shelter in North Texas to these locations:

  • Dallas Fort-Worth: Mesquite reception Center, 15515 E. IH-20, Mesquite
  • Ellis County: Knights of Columbus Hall, 850 IH-45, Ennis

This post has been updated.

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Marisa Charpentier joined KUT as a digital producer in January 2020. After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with degrees in journalism and Plan II Honors in 2018, she worked as a reporter for Community Impact Newspaper, covering the Central Texas communities of Cedar Park and Leander.