In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Texas cities like Houston and Dallas became a place of refuge for thousands of evacuees.
Many were fleeing deplorable conditions at the Louisiana Superdome, which was set up as a temporary shelter. Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller says it was a scramble to organize relief efforts.
Interview Highlights: Laura Miller…
…On the shock city officials faced after the storm:
“What was most jarring was that you’ve got this tremendous problem and then you hear from state officials that busloads of people are coming to your city and they’re gonna stop here and stay here. That was a new phenomenon back then.”
…On the decision to set up Reunion Arena and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as disaster shelters:
“Typically, if you need an emergency shelter, you open a couple of rec centers and historically, we’ve done that many times in Dallas. [Hurricane Katrina] was on a whole different magnitude so we needed a cavernous place to hold people and we quickly also added the Convention Center to that.
I remember walking into Reunion Arena with my children and walking into the ladies’ room and all of these mothers having their 10-year-olds standing in the sinks…to bathe them. They had to do everything that they would normally do in their homes suddenly in a sports arena with everyone around them, no peace, and no privacy. It was a very stressful situation.”
…On hearing the stories of evacuees:
“I remember a lot of people coming to Dallas traumatized from being locked up for days [in the Louisiana Superdome] and running out of food, people going to the bathroom all over the floor and darkness…I mean, it was very, very frightening what was going on there.
I really have to hand it to the Red Cross and the city staff who handled Reunion Arena and the Convention Center because it was orderly, it was comforting, it was well managed, [we had] lots of volunteers.”
…On the disaster relief fund she set up for evacuees:
“It started because Mark Craig, the pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church, called me and said, ‘I’m giving you $100,000. I don’t care how you spend it. I want you to help people,’ and that became the fund. We raised $2.8 million within a couple months of the storm.
[We took] families to their new apartments, pre-paid rent for two months, utilities paid. Mattress Giant CEO Barry Brown gave 500 mattress free sets, and we just put this all together very, very quickly to make sure people could actually transition into housing.”
…On what she would do differently:
“I’d be calmer on the front end. I was so worried about all the buses coming in and us being the only city to take them, where ironically Houston was the one who took the most, as we all know. I really give the city a lot of credit because the companies wrote checks for $100,000 on the spot and said, ‘take care of people.’ And that has always been the great thing about Dallas, just taking care of the people who end up here.“
Laura Miller was the mayor of Dallas from 2002 to 2007.