Austin Shelters Brace for Harvey's Second Flood

From evacuees to displaced locals, Red Cross readying long week

Evacuees at the Delco Center on Sunday
Evacuees at the Delco Center on Sunday (Photo by John Anderson)

Tropical Storm Harvey continues to dump rain on Texas. On Monday, during a brief respite here in Austin, the storm curved up along the Gulf Coast toward Louisiana – though it’s likely to return to Central Texas by Wednesday.

Harvey slammed into Texas on Friday night as a category 4 hurricane, and has already dropped record levels of rain in some areas – over 50 inches in some parts, and 11 trillion gallons of water in total. There have been over 300,000 power outages recorded throughout the state so far, and the latest forecasts project for rainfall to persist over Central Texas throughout the week, meaning the area’s Red Cross shelters – operating since Friday – should continue to take in the newly displaced – though in the coming days organizers anticipate many of their newer guests being victims of local flooding, as opposed to evacuees from the coastal region.

As of Sunday, the Wilhelmina Delco Center in East Austin (4601 Pecan Brook) was hosting roughly 150 people, ages ranging from five weeks to 81 years, as well as 30 pets. Many had traveled to Austin after receiving mandatory evacuation notices from places like Victoria, Palacios, and Edna. Lee Garcia, who made the journey with a dozen family members, said at first they had planned on sticking it out in his native Edna, but he’s glad they didn’t after hearing about the devastation from neighbors who had stayed.

“The bad part is hopefully over,” Garcia said. “We’re just trying to make the best of it.”

Garcia and others said they planned on going back home in the next few days, but Red Cross official Geof Sloan said that the organization believes the need for refuge won’t be going away anytime soon. “We really feel like the intake is going to increase,” he said. “We’re starting to see a lot of low water areas rise, so people [in those areas] will need somewhere to go.”

Central Texas has been called Flash Flood Alley for its topographical inability to convey excessive rainfall. Disasters like the Memorial Day flood of 1981 or the Halloween floods of 2013 and 2015 still haunt the memories of Austin residents, and the floods caused by Harvey will likely add another chilling episode to that chronology. Over 10 inches of rain fell in parts of Central Texas over the weekend, and emergency responders spent the weekend rescuing those trapped by rising water levels.

As the storm winds down, the bigger shelters like Delco, LBJ High School (7309 Lazy Creek), and the Toney Burger Activity Center (3200 Jones) will stay open as long as necessary, but more localized shelters will also be opening up around Austin, Sloan said, as well as in Luling, Bastrop, La Grange, and Schulenburg. Over 800 people from Austin have volunteered with the Red Cross to help evacuees, and Delco Red Cross manager Christopher Carmon said that the volunteer pool has brought a range of expertise, empowering the shelter to accommodate physical disability and mental health needs. “We even had one volunteer bring in a projector to show movies for the kids,” he said.

Sloan said that the response from the community has been “tremendous,” but he anticipates more will be needed in the coming weeks. As for other ways people can help, he said the best way would be to directly donate to Red Cross through their website.

“Each event is unique,” Sloan said, “but we plan on dealing with [Harvey] as it transpires.”

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Geof Sloan, Hurricane Harvey, Delco Center

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