- Elizabeth Findell American-Statesman Staff
Late Sunday morning, as rain from Tropical Storm Harvey poured down on Austin and the state looked fearfully at an increasingly dire flood situation in Houston, Gulf Coast evacuees sheltering at the Delco Center in Northeast Austin held hands and looked to God.
“Father, we know that some of us may have some devastation back home, but you have preserved our lives,” said a man leading the impromptu interfaith circle. “Thank you for looking down on us and all those other shelters because right now, Lord, we are all dislocated.”
Residents who included Baptists, Mormons, Catholics and others requested the gathering at the shelter, as they waited out what they knew might be bad news from home. Red Cross personnel housed 185 people at the Delco Center as of Sunday morning, ranging in age from 5 months to 82 years, and are prepared for the numbers to grow as more evacuees flee the coast.
An additional 650 people from a Victoria shelter of last resort were expected to arrive in Austin Sunday evening, according to a city memo. They will be sent to Reagan High School and LBJ High School. Meanwhile, staff and volunteers are preparing Lanier Middle School to be the next shelter to open.
Rhonda Harrison, 61, a lifelong Victoria resident, isn’t usually the type to flee storms, she said. But her husband Bruce’s recent hip replacement and the couple’s other medical conditions requiring air conditioning led her to put her foot down and leave town. They fled with their Pomeranian Ciroc, who’s happily at the shelter with them.
The updates from home haven’t been good. The doors were blown completely off their home and an addition collapsed, Harrison said. Friends say there’s no water service.
“For people who procrastinated, like I would have done, who didn’t stock up on food and water, they’re just going without,” she said. “I’ve heard it looks like a war zone from a movie.”
As the interfaith service ended, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, stopped by with a few supplies: Rugs for the children who were sitting on the concrete gym floor watching movies projected on the wall, and more-comfortable camp chairs for the evacuees with infants. Watson said he feared what was still to come from the storm.
“It’s rough,” he said. “With this amount of water, we’re going to have catastrophic and unprecedented flooding. If you don’t need to go out, don’t go out.”
The shelter has seen a steady stream of elected leaders. Saturday night, Gov. Greg Abbott served dinner to evacuees, after touring the shelter with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Mayor Steve Adler. Sunday night, Adler and Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez were scheduled to serve dinner.
The Harrisons worry about their children, who are in Houston hunkering down as flood waters rise. Their comfort comes from the family other people at the shelter have become, they said. Rhonda Harrison said she was grateful to wake up safely Sunday morning, but felt strange not preparing to go to church, as she usually does.
The circle of evacuees sharing stories, hopes and different views of religion and ideas about what greater purpose the storm could hold, cured that.
“I needed it,” Harrison said.