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Houston Community Center Turns Into Makeshift Shelter For Harvey Evacuees


And now we're going to hear from a community center that's been turned into a shelter in Pasadena, Texas. That's a city just outside of Houston. People started arriving there earlier this morning. On the line with us now is Lieutenant Luis Villanueva. He is the commanding officer at the Salvation Army there in Pasadena, and he's coordinating things at the shelter. Lieutenant Villanueva, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LUIS VILLANUEVA: Thank you for allowing us to share what is going on here in Pasadena.

MARTIN: Well, tell me a little bit about where you are.

VILLANUEVA: Right now, we're located in Pasadena, Texas. We are about 20, 30 minutes located from Houston. And here in the city of Pasadena was really severe damage last night about midnight. So we started to have a few calls from the city. And they asked us to see if we can open our gymnasium at the shelter. So we said, yes. Sure, we can do that. And since then, people have been coming, you know, little by little. By right now, we have about 65 people. And we have a capacity of a hundred right now in our gym.

MARTIN: So what did you have there to offer people when they got there? Do you have any cots or blankets or water or food, anything like that?

VILLANUEVA: Yeah. So in this command, we had about a hundred blankets already in storage. And we have about 40 beds that were distributed mainly for children, women and seniors. And also, we also have a food pantry. We took some of the food pantry to feed also to the people that is here with us.

MARTIN: So what were some of the conditions that brought people there?

VILLANUEVA: Most of the people that is here is because their houses are flooded. But most of the people, they were trapped in their houses. So not even the trucks of the city, they weren't able to get into the houses. They weren't because the water was so high.

MARTIN: So can I talk to one of the families there? I think Mr. Johnson there - Elliott Johnson (ph) is there with you.

VILLANUEVA: Yes, ma'am. Yes. He's right here.


MARTIN: Hey, Mr. Johnson. It's Michel Martin from NPR. How are you?

JOHNSON: Oh, I'm fine. Thank you.

MARTIN: Do you mind telling me what was going on with you, like, what happened?

JOHNSON: Well, about 1 o'clock in the morning, my daughter came up and woke me up and said there was water in the house. And so when I got up and I stepped out of the bed, it was like water up to my ankles. And I was like, oh, my God, what are we going to do? We've got to do something. So when I opened the front door, a bunch of water crashed - more water crashed into the house because it was like, I couldn't even see the mailboxes. I thought that, well, we've got to get out of here. We've got to get up high. So me and my family, we moved up into the attic. We brought the little stairs down and sit up there. And we had our cellphones with us. And then we were just calling and calling.

Finally, I found the number for the city of Pasadena. And I was like, well, we have to get out of here. And they said, OK, we're going to send somebody to you. But then when they tried to get the truck to come to us, the water was so high in the neighborhood that the trucks were dying out. They said, well, we can't get to you. You're going to have to try to come to us. And I said, oh, my God, it's going to be kind of impossible because I have a 1-year-old daughter. I have two puppies. I don't know. I don't know how we're going to do it. So they came in, like, little rafts and threw some of us on there. And we had to walk through the water to get to the lower level to get to the other truck.

MARTIN: It must have been scary.

JOHNSON: Yes, it was scary, it was. I was worried about getting out in the water because I didn't know if the lights or the power was still on, but the water was coming up to the sockets. And I was like - I was kind of scared to step in the water. I'm afraid that if - they're going to get electrocuted, you know, 'cause the water was that high.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, thanks so much for speaking with us. Our very best wishes to you and to your family.

JOHNSON: OK. Thank you.

MARTIN: Can I talk to Mr. Villanueva?


MARTIN: So, Lieutenant, how long can you shelter people there? I'm told it's still raining. And they say it might be raining through Wednesday, which means you have to assume more people are probably going to find their way there. Well, how long can you take care of people?

VILLANUEVA: Well, we will be open as long as the city want us to be open. As long as we have the resources, we will be open and helping these people. But I'm pretty sure that they're going to be really, really anxious to come back and probably going to leave before Wednesday or something like that. Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK. That's Lieutenant Luis Villanueva. He is the commanding officer at the Salvation Army in Pasadena, Texas. And the Salvation Army's community center there has been turned into an emergency shelter. And we've been speaking with him from there. Lieutenant Villanueva, thanks so much for speaking with us. And we hope we'll talk again under better circumstances.

VILLANUEVA: Thank you so much for allowing us to share what's going on here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.