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More Than 2,000 Hurricane Laura Evacuees Come To San Antonio

More than 2,100 evacuees have come to San Antonio as of 5 p.m. Wednesday to escape Hurricane Laura.

Hurricane Laura has rapidly intensified to a category 4 storm with an “unsurvivable storm surge” predicted to hit areas in Texas and Louisiana. The City of San Antonio has an evacuation check-in site set up to provide directions and accommodations to local hotels. 

Busloads of evacuees began arriving late Tuesday afternoon. The next day about 200 vehicles were lined up. Joe Arrington spokesman for the San Antonio Fire Department said the state was coordinating evacuation efforts using charter buses.

“They’re coming from the Port Arthur, Beaumont, Galveston area. They’re going to different places throughout the state. Some are going to Dallas, some Austin, some San Antonio, other regions, the state is just – kind of – when they put them on the bus they have a destination and that’s where they end up,” Arrington said.

However, COVID-19 has placed some complications on transport with the need for more buses than usual.

“With COVID their buses are about half-full so we need twice as many buses as we normally would, but they are coming through a state contract where they come to the different cities... as well as people just showing up in their own vehicles just knowing what cities are available for them to evacuate to,” Arrington said.

Angela Garrett is from Orange, Texas about 300 miles away from San Antonio along the border with Louisiana. She’s part of a caravan of seven cars with 25 family members.

“We ran with what we had and we used it to have our hotel for a couple of days and it’s running out now. And we don’t know how we’re going to get home. We need gas and everything so we’re trying to – faith in the Lord, faith in the Lord.”

Some evacuees drove more than nine hours to get to San Antonio’s evacuation site at 200 Gemblr Road. Vanessa Thomas and her family of 15 relatives drove from Quincy, Louisiana.

“My mother’s disabled she’s 76 years old and if the storm comes in with the force that it’s supposed to come in, we would have no way of protecting her, so we figured it would be safer to bring her out while it’s safe,” Thomas said.

Evacuees are undergoing medical screenings that include temperature checks and questions about symptoms. Metro Health Assistant Director Jennifer Herriot said medical stations were set up at two hotels for people who need assistance.

“We will ensure that folks that need any kind of medical care have an opportunity to go through and be triaged at the medical shelter and they would be sent to a hospital if necessary — or if they need over-the-counter or prescription medication we would help them with that,” said Herriott. 

Initially, San Antonio officials had expected only a few dozen evacuees on Tuesday night but that quickly changed going into Wednesday.

“The hurricane trajectory and severity increased within a matter of hours and we went from no evacuations, really, expected at the state level to mandatory evacuations covering a population of approximately more than 300,000 people,” San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg said the city was trying to get up to 2,000 hotel rooms to keep people from having to use one shelter; there are no plans to have a mass shelter for large groups of people.

But the challenge is staffing. With the pandemic, many hotel workers were laid off or furloughed.

“We’ve got a lot of empty rooms and hotels around his city but we don’t have staff so people are having to recall staff to get those rooms operational and that takes a little bit of time,” Nirenberg said. 

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the rooms are being paid for by the State of Texas and federal government.

“Obviously with the COVID overlying the hurricane and people coming here we don’t want people congregating in certain areas,” Wolff said.

The judge added that the field hospital set up for COVID-19 surge at Freeman Coliseum was being used for the first time. Wolff said it wasn’t being used for COVID patients but evacuees who need medical care.

“The ones that are in there are not necessarily coming from a hospital, they’re not hospital patients, but they were patients in nursing homes, assisted living, that require additional assistance so they have a whole team of medical technicians and everybody to help them,” Wolff said.

Laura is expected to make landfall late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. 

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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