Some Hurricane Laura evacuees turned away in shelter plan due to full hotels in Austin


AUSTIN (NewsNation) — Some evacuees fleeing Texas Gulf Coast communities in preparation of Hurricane Laura are being turned away from designated shelter areas Wednesday because they are at full capacity.

The Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan is a combined effort by the city of Austin, Travis County, Hays County, and Williamson County to receive Texans from coastal communities ahead of the hurricane’s arrival.

Many of those displaced by the mandatory evacuation in Galveston were bused by the city or independently drove to the Austin area. The counties estimated having enough room for 3,000 people. All 15 Austin hotels designated for evacuees are at capacity.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the plan implements that evacuees be sheltered in hotel rooms as opposed to large common areas to ensure proper social distancing and to prevent the spread of the virus.

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) — a racetrack and entertainment venue — deemed an intake center for evacuees, had to turn away a “handful’ of people who drove there seeking lodging, according to NewsNation affiliate KXAN.

Austin police have closed COTA for any future evacuee processing.

Many were told to drive to the cities of Mesquite and Ennis according to KXAN. Both towns are outside of Dallas, which is about three hours north of Austin.

Bryce Bencivengo with the City of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management emphasized that everyone who arrived on a bus was accommodated. Officials are currently working to find additional areas to house evacuees.

Ty Benjamin, a Port Arthur evacuee, arrived at COTA around 1 a.m., was processed at COTA and given an address at a San Marcos Motel 6 for lodging. Benjamin said when they arrived at the hotel, they were told they didn’t have a room.

“We don’t know where to go. We’re not from here,” said Benjamin, adding that calls to 311 were unanswered. Having survived and lost her property in 2017 to Hurricane Harvey, she decided to seek refuge in Austin.

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