Seeking Shelter, Harvey Evacuees Stay In State Parks | KERA News

Seeking Shelter, Harvey Evacuees Stay In State Parks

Sep 5, 2017
Originally published on September 6, 2017 9:52 am

Erik Ryan and Mia Reynolds from San Leon, Texas, sit at the picnic table at their campsite in Bastrop State Park. Reynolds, who is currently on hold with FEMA, says that she has been through storms before.

"I did not want to wait around for a politician to tell me to evacuate. I saw the storm on the news and had a bad feeling. That's when I decided to rent a U-Haul truck and pull out."

Reynolds pauses as a an electronic voice comes over the phone: "Your wait time is now 154 minutes."

Ryan and Reynolds, who live in their Airstream Trailer, took one and a half days to pack up their homesite and move vehicles to higher ground ahead of the storm. Their first stop was the Houston West RV Park in Brookshire, Texas, west of Katy. After five days of rain and water levels rising, Ryan and Reynolds realized that it was time to go again. Running out of money and resources, they were relieved to hear Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement that Texas State Parks were open for the month of September for evacuees, free of charge.

According to Cory Evans, Park Superintendent for Inks Lake State Park in Burnet, Tx., during a statewide disaster, Texas State Parks waive entry fees and offer shelter to evacuees. Evans, who would normally be monitoring campers and day use visitors during Labor Day Holiday weekend, is instead coordinating volunteer groups and helping with the basic needs of evacuees.

"It has been great to see the overwhelming response from the local community," says Evans.

Roughly 7,500 people have sought shelter at Texas State Parks since the state parks opened to evacuees on Aug. 24, before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, according to Stephanie Garcia, a representative with Texas Parks & Wildlife.

At Inks Lake State Park volunteers currently provide two meals a day and basic services to the 40 evacuees staying at the park, down from 120 evacuees a week after the storm. A doctor from Scott & White, a chain of hospitals and clinics in the area, answered medical questions and representatives from the local school district informed parents about how to enroll students into the local school system.

As the flood water in the coastal cities recedes, so does the need for shelter at the State Parks. People are returning to their homes and surveying the damage. Evans expects that some of those who have left will return if there is no home to go back to.

Leonard Turner, 81, evacuated before the storm made a direct hit over his town of Rockport, Texas. Turner, a retired Bastrop police officer, left his home with a few days worth of clothes and his favorite John Wayne tapes.

"I knew that it would be bad, but I still thought a few things would survive. My house was built in 1952. I know that it did not have a chance," says Turner.

After four days of sleeping in his truck in Bastrop, Texas, he heard that the State Parks were open to evacuees and he made his way to Bastrop State Park. He now knows that his house was totally destroyed by the storm.

"I knew what was going to happen even before it happened. With 135 miles per hour winds, nothing else could happen," says Turner.

Katie Hayes Luke is a freelance photojournalist and multimedia producer based in Austin, Texas.

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