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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

20,000 evacuees crowd Texas town

Shelters, evacuation centers open in Houston for stragglers

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Houston's airport was packed. Hurricane shelters opened Friday for people who couldn't get out.

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(CNN) -- Officials in Houston opened more than a dozen shelters Friday for people who didn't want to get caught in gridlock and a small town 120 miles to the north was jammed with people fleeing Hurricane Rita.

Less than 24 hours before Rita is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the exodus brought about 20,000 evacuees to Lufkin. The town of about 35,000 residents is 120 miles north of Houston.

"We're overwhelmed with folks here," Lee Miller, an emergency services official in Lufkin, told CNN. "Our shelters are full here."

Lufkin has room for only about half the number of people who are seeking shelter there, officials said. The town also is in Rita's path and city officials are "trying to get those people further up into shelters" elsewhere, Miller said.

Although an estimated 1 million people were trying to head north, shelters opened Friday in Houston.

Some seeking shelter chose not to join the massive gridlock along roads leading north from the city, said Denise Bishop, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Houston. ( Watch people try to leave -- 2:18 )

Bishop said the agency was opening at least 14 shelters in the Houston area, and was working with local officials to open evacuation centers. Evacuation centers do not have the same services as shelters but offer people a relatively safe building to ride out the storm.

The front wall of one such evacuation center, Spring High School in Harris County, is made of glass. Harris County officials said people would be moved into the corridors once the winds and rains begin.

The shelter has no cots or blankets. Authorities were not sure how many people would stay in the area shelters and evacuation centers.

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