After almost a week of waiting and preparation, the city of Dallas finally, started receiving a steady stream of evacuees from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on Thursday night and Friday. The travelers aren't coming from Houston, according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Instead, they're coming to North Texas from flooded-out southeast Texas. They're arriving by plane, bus and car.
According to the city of Dallas, 1,711 people have registered at the city's four shelters, including 1,324 at the convention center. That's a bump of about 1,000 people since Wednesday. Most of the new arrivals came by military plane from Galveston after being bused to the city from Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange and the rest of the Golden Triangle. "The city of Dallas and its partner agencies continue to meet the challenge," Rawlings said.
As totals at the convention center have grown, people have begun leaving Dallas' three additional shelters, which were set up at the city's recreation centers late last week. Evacuees at those shelters, according to Rawlings, were those who were able to get to the city on their own. As Harvey moves out of Texas and the flood waters begin to recede, he said, many of those people are heading home to survey their homes and property Rawlings said. Those coming to the convention center are those who were stuck during the storm and have just been able to get out.
"These are individuals that got caught in the floods around Beaumont and Port Arthur. Most of them have lost their homes or their apartments. It's heartbreaking to see what they've been through," Rawlings said. "I asked them if they'd been up all night, and they said we've been up for three days."
For Labelle's Dennis Battenfield, the nightmare began Monday night. "My home started taking in water during the evening time. It started getting dark out there were I live — I'm 200 yards off the bayou — and the snakes and the gators started coming out," Battenfield said. "I looked at my girlfriend and I said 'There is no way I'm going to stand out here in the dark with the snakes and stuff, so we're going to go stay with the neighbor.'"
Battenfield got up at 7:30 a.m., threw on his clothes and headed out the door to gather he and his girlfriend's belongings from his trailer. When he went out, however, the water between he and his neighbor's house was already waist deep. Without a raft or anything to float his stuff on, Battenfield was forced to leave everything behind.
He and his girlfriend left Labelle in Battenfield's truck, spending Tuesday night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Nederland. By the next morning, Port Arthur was beginning to flood, so Battenfield left his truck, which he said is the only thing he has left, on high ground and went to a shelter at the First United Methodist Church in Nederland. When evacuees at the church shelter woke up Thursday morning, they were told they were going to be taken to the airport and flown to Dallas, Galveston or San Antonio.
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Battenfield ended up on an Air Force C-130 cargo plane headed for Love Field. When he landed, he was grateful for two things, the porta-potties set up for those piling out of the back of the planes, and the air conditioned bus set to take the evacuees to the convention center. Battenfield got to Dallas' mega shelter about midnight, he said, and was the 572nd person to register for help at the convention center.
While he says his fellow evacuees have been a bit of a nuisance — if the convention center was at its 5,000 capacity, Battenfield says, he wouldn't be staying there — Battenfield says that Dallas cops and volunteers have shown terrific hospitality as the evacuees began arriving. He showered when he got to the convention center, he said, and then slept in until noon on Friday. Just being able to walk around, to see the bull statues near the convention center and go to 7-Eleven to get a Big Gulp, have made him feel like a regular person for the first time since Monday, he says. For now, he hasn't decided on his future plans, but says he did inquire about a job at the McDonalds at Commerce Street and Griffin Street downtown in case he decides to remain in Dallas.
Rawlings says the city is focused on finding more permanent housing solutions for those who can't, or don't want to, return to southeast Texas or Houston, but he warned Friday that Dallas' affordable housing stock might be two low to accommodate those who want to stay. The city of Dallas, Rawlings said, is talking to surrounding suburbs and cities in hopes of figuring something out for those who're already here, and those who might show up over the holiday weekend and beyond. According to the mayor, the city could receive as many as 1,000 more evacuees, but it's possible that Dallas could receive far fewer, as well.