City Hall

As Deluge Continues in Houston, the City of Dallas Readies its Convention Center "Mega Shelter"

The Walnut Hill shelter will house 290 evacuees.
The Walnut Hill shelter will house 290 evacuees. Brian Maschino
The city of Dallas announced late Sunday afternoon that it is opening its biggest emergency shelter, adding space for about 5,000 more evacuees from Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. At the request of the state of Texas, the city is preparing the bottom floor of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center's air-conditioned parking garage to house those fleeing Harvey starting Tuesday.

“We have been advised by the state to be prepared for up to 5,000 evacuees, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to accommodate our fellow Texans who may need assistance,” said Rocky Vaz, director of the Dallas Office of Emergency Management.

The decision to prep the convention center site is preemptive. The Walnut Hill Recreation Center, the first opened by the city, is at capacity — housing about 290 evacuees — but the Tommie Allen Recreation Center, Dallas' second shelter, is about half full, with 123 guests. Vaz said Friday that the shelter at the convention center would only be opened as a last resort.
click to enlarge The city is preparing the parking garage at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center to house Hurricane Harvey evacuees. - CITY OF DALLAS
The city is preparing the parking garage at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center to house Hurricane Harvey evacuees.
city of Dallas

More people are expected in the coming days, however, as pockets of the Houston area receive what's expected to be as many as 50 inches of rain this week. Flooding in the Bayou City already is catastrophic, and conditions are expected to deteriorate. Both of the city's airports are closed, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Sunday evening, and he urged residents to shelter in place.

Anyone coming to Dallas is asked to call 211 to get current shelter information before arriving. Evacuees are also encouraged to bring their pets. Dallas Animal Services representatives are stationed at each of the city's shelters to find accommodations.

Dallas firefighters have been deployed to the areas hardest hit by the storm as part of Texas Task Force 1 and Texas Task Force 2. Both task forces, made up of firefighters from around the state, are making water rescues in southeast Texas and on the Texas coast. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that he's called up 3,000 members of Texas' National Guard to head to areas between Houston, Victoria and Corpus Christi on the Texas coast.

For civilians wanting to help, the city of Dallas recommends donating supplies; it has plenty of volunteers to staff its shelters. According to Patricia Blasquez, a spokeswoman in Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' office, clothing, baby formula, baby wipes, bottles, diapers and Graco Pack n’ Plays for babies are among the city's most needed items. Donations can be dropped off at 15660 N. Dallas Parkway.

In Dallas, scattered showers, with the potential for minor flooding, are expected to continue over the next 24 to 48 hours.

The storm is also wreaking havoc on Dallas' professional sports franchises. The Rangers, scheduled to begin a three-game series in Houston on Tuesday night, returned to Dallas after their loss to Oakland on Sunday afternoon. The Houston Texans, scheduled to host the Cowboys in the team's last preseason game Thursday night, flew into Dallas rather than Houston after their game in New Orleans in Saturday. All four teams — the Astros, Rangers, Texans and Cowboys — are in a holding pattern.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young