Thousands of wet and weary victims from Hurricane Harvey poured into the George R. Brown Convention Center to find dry land.
The second they arrived at the center, Fantaci Villanueva says she and her family instantly felt hope. They had been stuck as their second-floor apartment home filled with water. Villanueva says she had “never experienced anything like that before.” She and her two small children, ages two and five, and her parents were eventually rescued by boat.
Houston city officials were initially planning for 5,000 to stay in this convention center-turned-shelter. But as the rain continued, more than 10,000 people filled the halls.
“We won’t turn anyone away,” Red Cross spokeswoman Betsy Robertson said.
This 2 million-square-foot convention center that includes exhibit halls, meeting rooms and a ballroom became a “makeshift village” overnight. With thousands of volunteers and countless donations, this shelter is a place many flood victims now call home. The hall has “stations” set up on all sides where evacuees can get hot food and water and all their necessities. The first stop for new arrivals is registration. The next is to find dry clothes. This includes a medical station, a bedding station, an area with baby items, including playpens and strollers, and even a charging station so people can stay connected to their loved ones.
“It was really easy,” Villanueva said. “All we had to do was one person from my family sign everybody up, and they helped us.”
The center’s vow to accept anyone and everyone hasn’t been without its hiccups. Houston resident Wanda Tucker arrived alone late Monday night. She received a number for a bed but there weren’t enough. “I had to sleep in a chair,” Tucker said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is working to get more cots in and to reduce the population at the convention center by opening additional shelters around the city. At a press conference, officials said they are still in need of toiletries, blankets, towels, wheelchairs, pillows and medical supplies.
Even though the conditions aren’t ideal, those calling the convention center home are thankful to be out of the danger zone.
Inside the long hall, Villanueva tidies up her families’ space and reflects. “It’s not what I expected, but when you have nothing left you can’t really complain,” she said. “You have your family with you, and you’re all OK.”