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City welcomes Harvey survivors, helps Houston

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Mayor Steve Adler on Monday sent out a message of welcome to survivors of Hurricane Harvey seeking shelter in Austin. During a news conference at the Delco Center, the mayor said the state has asked Austin to take in 7,000 survivors from the Gulf Coast and Houston.

Adler said the city is doing an assessment to see how many it can house. The mayor has also called a special meeting for 9 a.m. today so that City Council can hear a briefing on the city’s response to Harvey, now classified as a tropical storm, and possibly declare an emergency in order to activate resources sooner than would normally happen.

City officials said between 1,100 and 1,300 people from areas struck by the devastating storm had already arrived by early Monday evening. Evacuees are being housed at the Delco Center, the Burger Center, Lyndon B. Johnson High School and Reagan High School.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Austin sheltered about 4,000 survivors of that storm at the Austin Convention Center. Some of those survivors still call Austin home.

The mayor sought to reassure anyone coming to the shelters that they would not be asked for identification or proof of citizenship.

To Austinites, the mayor said, “First, everybody should know that company is coming. We and other cities around the state have received a request from the state to shelter thousands of our fellow Texans. … I think that it is important that all of our guests know that they are welcome and they are safe here and want them to know that Austin is going to take real good care of you and that everybody is welcome in our shelters. We are not checking papers, we are just opening our doors to make sure that everyone is safe.”

One of those who joined the mayor at the news conference was Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Austin’s Consul General of Mexico, who said Mexican officials had spoken with Gov. Greg Abbott and offered to help the state during this emergency.

“We are in constant contact with the office of the governor and the office of the Secretary of State to determine in very specific ways what type of help would be of the greatest use for Texas in this moment,” he said. Austin, of course, is in a legal battle with the state of Texas over whether local jurisdictions can prevent police officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.

Gutierrez also offered help to any Mexican citizen in Texas who might need help, from documentation up to repatriation.

Adler said Austin has sent 26 firefighters to Houston, 12 boat squad members, 18 medics, four police officers, four helicopter technicians and one water team manager. He praised workers at the city’s Emergency Operations Center, calling it “a finely tuned and oiled machine.”

Meanwhile, the city’s Music & Entertainment Division did its part by putting out a call for musicians to play area evacuation shelters.

On the homefront, for most Austinites the storm that devastated Rockport, Victoria and Port Aransas, and continues to trounce Houston, was little more than an inconvenience.

Austin Energy spokesperson Robert Cullick told the Austin Monitor that the utility had resolved problems for 60,000 of its customers. As of Monday evening, Cullick said 2,450 Austin Energy customers were still without power. “We have 30 crews working right now and 11 additional tree trimming crews. Of course we’re in 24/7 operation,” he said.

He explained why there were so many outages with Harvey. “Usually storms hit with a fury and then it’s over. … We have a peak (but) this was a very different kind of storm. We just continuously had more outages,” he said, particularly on Saturday night.

Cullick said he wanted to caution members of the public to stay at least 35 feet away from downed power lines. When the ground is wet, he said, it makes an excellent conductor of electricity.

There are numerous charities and service organizations working to help the city deal with the crisis Harvey has brought. Those include the Red Cross, the Austin Disaster Relief Network, Austin Pets Alive, Austin’s blood bank, which is called We Are Blood, and legal aid organizations, which will assist people in the shelters with filing insurance claims.

The mayor urged people to make monetary contributions to the Red Cross, ADRN and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Photo by the U.S. Department of Defense.

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