Though some people displaced by Hurricane Ike stay with friends and family, or in the shelter set up at former Bowie Elementary School, community volunteers say some evacuees still seek to fulfill basic needs.”It’s an unfamiliar town for them, and a lot of them are just running around from place to place looking for help – they need instant help, and some places are unable to do that,” said a Southside Community Center volunteer who wished to remain anonymous. The volunteer said three vehicles full of evacuees seeking a place to stay agreed to follow her to the Bowie shelter, but never arrived.
“After I got through the second light I looked behind to make sure they were following me, and they had just disappeared…the only thing I can think of is that after they started going they changed their mind and didn’t want to go over there.”
The volunteer said “misinformation” resulting from a lack of coordination between aid organizations exacerbates the plight of some evacuees.
“We had a group of people come over here yesterday who said that somebody had told them to come over here for food,” said the volunteer. “We didn’t have any food. Somebody told the people at Salvation Army that they were taking men’s clothing, and we were taking women’s clothing, which is not true; we’re taking all kinds of clothing.”
Joshua Rhodes, programs director at Southside Community Center, said as long as people have registered with FEMA to receive aid, they should be fine.
“Every agency’s pitched in to get all the supplies they need,” Rhodes said. “(Evacuees at Bowie) actually probably have more supplies in there than they’re going to use. They seem to be doing alright; their spirits are pretty high.”
Evacuees Delores Philips and Donald Brown of Galveston said they and 14 of their family members evacuated to Austin before the storm hit. After staying in a shelter for two nights, they went to another at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, and arrived in San Marcos on the 15th. They currently reside in the Bowie shelter.
“These people over here (are) nice, they’re trying to put us in rooms and everything, because they were saying that people need their privacy,” Philips said. “So they’re trying to work with FEMA, trying to help them process fast, because we do have little kids.”
Philips and Brown said they were told it may be as long as a month and half before it is safe for them to return home.
“We kind of lingered back, you know, tried to wait to see if we was going to evacuate,” Brown said. “Before the storm even hit the water was already rising, the streets was already flooding before it even rained.”
Brown said he worked in New Orleans in the post-Hurricane Katrina relief efforts for a company under contract with FEMA. When Hurricane Rita hit less than a month after Katrina, he returned to evacuate his family from Galveston. They returned home three days later. Brown said he graduated from Gary Job Corps in 1985.
“I never thought I’d be walking these streets again…it’s nice,” Brown said. “I’d like to thank (residents) very much, they’re very caring.”
Melissa Millecam, city public information officer, said the Bowie shelter is equipped with cots and bedding, a recreation area, food service, computers with internet and cable TV. She said there are “quite a few” children among the evacuees.
“We’re not taking clothing at the shelter because we’re not equipped to handle huge amounts of donations, but we’re encouraging people to donate money and food to the Hays County Food Bank, which had bare shelves (Wednesday) morning, and also to donate clothes to a thrift store or to Goodwill.” Millecam said.
Millecam said local schools are having a school supply drive to help cities in areas most damaged by the hurricane, and employees are holding a food drive. She said the bus route has been altered to accommodate the evacuees and the animal shelter is taking in pets dislocated by the storm.
“It’s really been a very big effort all the way around. People in San Marcos have really opened their hearts for these evacuees,” Millecam said.
The city sent a fire rescue team to the coast to provide medical assistance, and to do search and rescue work in Orange, Texas. The city will sent team of electric utility workers to east Texas later this month to help restore electric power.
“We’ll be working with FEMA and other entities to get some reimbursement down the road,” Millecam said. “But what we do first is provide the service when we’re called to do so and then we can get reimbursed for at least part of our cost if not all of it.”
Ryan Farrell, Econo Lodge employee, said the weekend Ike made landfall, every hotel was full.
“I was probably getting a call every ten minutes from people looking for hotel rooms,” Farrell said. “We starting getting booked up, people started evacuating, I think, the week before it happened…we were booked up two days before it even came.” Farrell said FEMA is paying for two rooms of evacuees at the hotel.
A guest at the Econo Lodge said FEMA will reimburse him for his room even though his job, not the hurricane, brought him to Central Texas from Houston.
“I’ve been here for eight weeks – we’re doing a hospital project over by the hospital off Sattler,” said the guest.
Marty McKellips, Volunteer Services Committee Chair and Board Chair-Elect at the American Red Cross of Central Texas, said her organization was prepared to shelter 25,000 evacuees in Hays, Williamson, and Travis Counties. She said there were been about 6,100 evacuees in 22 shelters in Central Texas at the peak of the crisis.
“I always said if I had to evacuate, I’d rather evacuate here than anywhere else,” McKellips said. “The truth is, in Central Texas, we have a really active volunteer base, and so it’s really easy to just go on television – we have a really supportive media – we can go on television and say we need volunteers, and they will come as fast as we can process them, even faster sometimes.”
By SEAN BATURA