The Austin Chronicle

Hurricane Relief Efforts Under Way in Austin

Katrina refugees in Austin update

By Amy Smith, September 2, 2005, News

With an estimated 5,000 hurricane evacuees expected to arrive in Austin this weekend, local Red Cross officials were scrambling today to find additional housing and temporary shelters. The Austin Hotel & Motel Association as well as local apartment managers were coordinating efforts with Red Cross officials.

Many area hotels have slashed their rates to accommodate the new arrivals, while one lodging facility - the Woodward Conference Center and Hotel in South Austin - is also hiring job-seeking guests for an ongoing renovation progect, said Karen Kenter-Blumberg, executive director of the Hotel & Motel Association. "Most hotels are reducing their rates by at half, down from the average of $80 to $100 [per night]," she said. "They can't totally negate [the rates] because they've got their own payroll to make," she said. Other hotels have either made contributions or set up fundraising efforts, she said. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has also called for the elimination of the hotel/motel bed tax rate for all hurricane victims.

The Austin Convention Center or the University of Texas Erwin Center were being considered as possible shelters for hurricane evacuees, as the smaller Burger Activity Center in South Austin was expected to reach capacity tonight or tomorrow. "We're looking at parking, feeding, and other logistics," Red Cross spokeswoman Marty McKellips said. As of Thursday night, about 60 people had arrived at the Burger Center. But with hundreds more evacuees anticipated throughout the Labor Day weekend, Red Cross and Austin Emergency Management officials were plotting an extended course of action. Meanwhile, Mayor Will Wynn is asking residents and businesses to open their hearts, minds and wallets to the hurricane victims as they continue arriving in Austin. "We are asking people to make an unprecedented contribution," mayoral aide Matt Curtis said, between fielding phone calls. "We're asking everyone to be open-minded and do what ever it takes to help these people. The mayor is putting out a call for volunteers, prayers, and money.

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