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City closing Convention Center to Hurricane Ike evacuees

Thursday, September 25, 2008 by Mark Richardson

If all goes according to plan, most of the Hurricane Ike evacuees staying at the Austin Convention Center will be aboard buses on their way back home today. City officials say with a wiring upgrade scheduled for parts of the Convention Center scheduled to begin Friday, they are shutting down the shelter there today.


As of Wednesday, there were about 150 evacuees still at the Convention Center, according to city spokeswoman Leslie Schneiweiss. She said officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the city have been working to find space that is more permanent for some evacuees, such as apartments or hotels.

“There are a number of buses scheduled to be here tomorrow (Thursday) to take them back to Galveston or wherever else they live,” Schneiweiss said. “But if someone can’t go back yet, we aren’t going to put them out on the street. We’ll either find an apartment or hotel for them or we’ll move them to another shelter, most likely the Delco Center.”

As of Wednesday, the Delco Center still had about 50 evacuees, Schneiweiss said, adding that there are also 35 special needs patients still at the JJ Pickle Research Campus, along with 10 caretakers. Shortly after Hurricane Ike made landfall 10 days ago, they city was housing approximately 6,000 evacuees.

Richard Sczorca, a FEMA spokesman, said his agency is working to find long-term housing for evacuees who can’t return to their homes yet. He said that individuals who register with FEMA and qualify are eligible for housing in local hotels and motels or apartments.

Sczorca said that there are a number of programs available to assist evacuees in addition to housing vouchers. He said the State of Texas has made food stamps available, and the Texas Workforce Commission has extended unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs because of the storm, including those who were self-employed.

He also said that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a program available for those who are facing long-term displacement from their homes.

“HUD is offering up to 18 months rest for families whose homes were destroyed in an area that cannot be reinhabited for a long period of time,” he said. “Many areas of Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula and areas inland are severely damaged and it may be a long time before people can get back into those areas.”

According to the Associated Press, officials began allowing Galveston residents back on the island Wednesday to inspect their properties, but most were not allowed to stay. Almost all structures on the island are severely damages and there are rotting cattle carcasses, snakes and swarms of mosquitoes. The area lacks drinking water, reliable electricity, medical care and sewer service.

Galveston officials hoped most of the 45,000 residents who fled before the Sept. 13 storm would stay away until more repairs could be made. Officials extended the disaster declaration for 90 days.

At least 62 deaths, 27 of them in Texas, were blamed on the Category 2 hurricane with a Category 4 storm surge. The body of a woman who apparently drowned was uncovered Wednesday in a debris field north of Galveston. Nearly 50 residents are still missing.

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