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Church should have opened to evacuees sooner, critics say on Twitter

The facility prepped to take in people after public shelters filled up, the pastor told CNN

CNN  — 

Pastor Joel Osteen has opened the doors of his megachurch in Houston to evacuees and wants Harvey survivors to know the space is available, he told CNN on Wednesday morning.

“We’re housing hundreds of people that have been displaced by the flooding. All day today and yesterday, we’ve been receiving supplies,” Osteen told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, responding to criticism that he didn’t open Lakewood Church to the needy soon enough.

As flooding ravaged parts of Houston and left thousands without shelter, Twitter users lambasted the televangelist, saying he should have opened Lakewood sooner.

Pastor Joel Osteen's Houston church flooded Sunday in Harvey, church staff said on social media. Photos provided by the church Monday show a flooded hallway.

But the church complex, which can hold more than 16,000 people, was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” its staff reported on social media Sunday afternoon. Photos provided by the church Monday to CNN show flooding inside a building and on a street.

By Monday night, a few hundred people had arrived at Lakewood by bus, Osteen’s brother-in-law, Don Iloff, told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

Early Tuesday morning, Osteen told CNN his church would “continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” adding: “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”

Photos provided by Lakewood Church on Monday show a flooded building.

And by late Tuesday morning, when the shelter at the city’s convention center reported twice as many evacuees as its capacity, Osteen’s facility was publicly welcoming displaced Houstonians, Osteen tweeted.

Osteen said Wednesday he wasn’t sure “how this notion got started that we’re not a shelter and we’re not taking people,” calling it a “false narrative.”

“There was a time, Chris, that the place was flooded,” Osteen told Cuomo. “There was a safety issue the first day or two. … We would never put people in here until we know that it’s safe, and it was not safe those days, let me tell you.”

The church “has always been open,” Osteen said. A handful of staff and maintenance workers rode out of the worst of Harvey at the facility to keep tabs on flooding, Iloff said.