Monday, September 05, 2005

Austin Convention Center Shelter

I've been at the Austin Convention Center all weekend, helping out however I could. I stayed for 12 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday. When I first arrived Saturday, there were just a few evacuees there, and there were just a couple of rows of a couple hundred cots. I started just by passing out supplies to the empty beds - toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. The number of beds kept growing as I worked and then very quickly the number of people started to grow.
Most of our evacuees were getting flown in straight from Louisiana. Most said they had been on that road - the one the reporters were talking from - and a few said they were from the convention center. They were stepping in to our shelter literally a few hours away from that situation. They came in exhausted, filthy, and ready for a hot meal and a shower.
We did what we could to accomodate them. I helped them get whatever I could - be it a special size clothing, a fresh set of underwear, a plate of food because they were too tired to walk. Many that I talked with were just regular people who made a bad decision, a decision they admitted to regretting.
Before long the two rows of cots turned in to rows and rows of hundreds of cots, lined all the way to the walls, with wall space considered a priority among the evacuees because it gave them a little sense of privacy. Many, many familes and lots and lots of kids. Before long, we had sections for toiletries, clothing and shoes set up. The phones and phone lines were available immediately. They set up a large children's area with carpeting where the kids could get together and play. Large television screens were placed throughout so they could watch the news. Of course, many of these people had no real idea of the situation - they had been part of the story, not watching it.
The food for them was excellent - not cafeteria style at all. The meals changed three times a day - they've had lasagna and salisbury steak and chicken and gravy and eggs and sausage and tortillas - and always with sides like salad and vegetables and mashed potatoes and rice, and always with a dessert, like cake. A good, hot, real meal felt SO good to these people, who had been essentially starving for five days.
The showers took until Saturday around seven to get ready, but as soon as they were, they got the women and children in there, then the men, then began accomodating the still coming busloads and busloads that made their way to the center. Upon exiting the shower, they simply threw away in to large bins their clothes - the filth from the river water and the grime and the urine made them unrecoverable.
More to come ...

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