North Texas prepares for Hurricane Harvey evacuees

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Americo Espinoza drove out of Freeport Friday morning with his one-year-old son and wife.

He said he went to bed the night before, trying to decide what to do. When the wind and rain woke him up Friday morning, he decided it was time to go. He says when he left town, it was dark, windy and raining. He came to Dallas to escape the oncoming onslaught of Hurricane Harvey.

“I'm not really concerned about my property,” says Espinoza. “I'm more concerned with my family. Property you can make it up I guess. My family, you can't make it up.”

He was among a number of evacuees from Freeport, a city located about 60 miles south of Houston, that arrived at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center around midday Friday. Most of them arrived with clothes and few other personal belongings.

The city opened up the shelter at the request of state emergency management officials. City officials say the shelter can accommodate as many as 500 people. As of Friday afternoon, there were about 70 evacuees at the shelter.


State officials will reimburse the city for its costs.

Officials say they have learned the lessons of what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. About 26,000 disaster victims flooded into North Texas. City and county officials were ill-prepared for the influx.

Since then, officials have met once a month and conducted routine drills to prepare eventually for another disaster.

“The big danger here is rain,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “Our graphs that we’re looking at [show] risk of catastrophic, life-threatening rain is literally off the chart. There are rivers that are projected to flood to levels that we’ve never seen before in that area.”

Jenkins advised North Texas residents to provide shelter to relatives if at all possible because of the lack of space for those who may need shelter.

There are about 740,000 people living in the 30 Texas counties that will be potentially affected by Hurricane Harvey. There is a maximum of about 51,000 shelter spaces in the entire state.

Jenkins also advised those who are fleeing to North Texas to fill up their tanks before setting out northbound. It would only take a couple of cars running out of gas to create a massive traffic backup on Interstate 45.

“It may take a lot more gas to make this trip,” he said. “You may have a seven-hour journey.”

If necessary, Dallas officials say it can open up to other recreation centers for evacuees. Those three recreation centers can hold as many as a 1,000 people.

In the unlikely event that those centers overflowed, then they can open up the convention center and it would serve as a mega-shelter. Jenkins said because of all the security and sanitary problems associated with a mega-shelter, opening up the convention center is an absolute last resort.

At the Walnut Hill recreation center, the American Red Cross is running the shelter, the Salvation Army is feeding evacuees and the North Texas Food Bank is providing the food.

Red Cross volunteers, along with volunteers from the Dallas Fire Rescue’s Community Emergency Response team, helped set up shelter beds for the evacuees. Dallas Fire-Rescue officials brought in medical supplies.

“In terms of how long they'll be here, that largely depends on Harvey sits over the state of Texas," said Lisa Morgan, an American Red Cross spokeswoman.

The local SPCA is providing a place for people fleeing impacted areas who need a place for their pets. They want to avoid situations where people stay behind because of their pets or leave them behind to suffer and die.

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About 120 cats from a Corpus Christie were on their way to North Texas, the SPCA said.

People looking for shelter can contact 211 for information about where they can go. 

For people wanting to help, officials advised that they donate to the organizations helping out with the effort, such as the Red Cross, the SPCA and the Salvation Army.

Trusted World will also be open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to those who want to donate new or lightly used clothing, non-perishable foods, and toiletries. It is located at 15660 North Dallas Parkway.

Rafael Luna, his wife and four children left Freeport last night. They arrived at early this morning and stayed in a hotel. They were thankful that they would find shelter at the recreation center.

“It's pretty bad over there,” Luna said. “We don't' know what's going to happen when the storm hits. The home, when we go back, I don't know what we’re going to find over there.”

Luna came with his brother, mom and dad, as well as their neighbors who didn’t know where else to go.

“Our priority was the kids,” says his wife, Ericka Luna. “That's why we came up yesterday because we didn’t want to get into the traffic and all the panic. That's why we had to get out of there.”