Early Monday afternoon, as volunteers inside the first floor of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center's parking garage scurried to put together and line up 5,000 cots, two volunteers from East Texas Community Emergency Response Team sat outside on the parking garage steps, finishing off their Jason's Deli boxed lunches. Both were wary of media questions and declined to give their last names, citing the instructions they'd received when they showed up to volunteer to help refugees from Harvey.
"We're setting up cots and places for people to hunker down," said Melinda, from Greenville. "We're just here to give back to our community." Melinda's friend, Mariann from Fate, said she'd worked at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center throughout the weekend. Evacuees at Dallas' first shelter were in a decent mood, she said.
"People were in generally good spirits, thankful they had a place to put their head down while they were waiting things out," she said. "Of course, that was when the storm was hitting, so they were worried about their homes and loved ones."
Mariann said most of the early arrivals at Dallas' shelters came from areas that faced mandatory or voluntary evacuations, including Corpus Christi and Port Arthur. The evacuees already in Dallas are "those who could get out and drive themselves up to the shelter." she said. "These guys left like a couple days in advance."
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Speaking to reporters at the convention center at lunchtime Monday, just before the city closed the shelter off to the press because of the "chaos" during setup, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the city is preparing to take in more evacuees as the roads in southeast Texas clear and people are able to drive north. Rawlings said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked Dallas to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
"They have 250 buses ready to go, Rawlings said. "If Houston is not able to meet those citizens' [shelter] needs, they'll start sending them north."
Rocky Vaz, the director of the Dallas Office of Emergency Management, said his office and the city hope to beat their initial estimates and get the convention center shelter open before Tuesday morning. The experience Dallas had during Hurricane Katrina is proving instructive. "We know what it takes to set up the convention center," he said.
In 2005, during the aftermath of Katrina, Dallas housed about 2,800 people at the convention center. This time, the city expects to be able to handle about twice as many people — along with as many pets as necessary. According to Vaz, animal evacuees will be housed in the fourth floor of the Reunion Arena parking garage next door.