Ahead of Hurricane Laura, Central Texas counties preparing to shelter Gulf Coast evacuees

Hurricane warnings are in effect for southeast Texas ahead of Hurricane Laura. (Courtesy National Hurricane Center)
Hurricane warnings are in effect for southeast Texas ahead of Hurricane Laura. (Courtesy National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane warnings are in effect for southeast Texas ahead of Hurricane Laura. (Courtesy National Hurricane Center)

As the Gulf Coast prepares for Hurricane Laura—a Category 1 storm that is forecast to make landfall Aug. 27 in southeast Texas or Louisiana—Central Texas agencies have activated the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan to help those evacuating.

Last activated ahead of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Austin and Travis County that year took in evacuees for about five weeks and saw 850 individuals during the event’s peak. Williamson and Hays counties also coordinate through the plan.

Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesperson for the Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Austin and Travis County are preparing for 3,000 potential evacuees this time, although anticipated turnout and the duration the plan will be needed are not known.

“If we need to keep people here for a long period of time, we have hotel rooms available, and we have contracts in place that we’ll have all of the items that individuals would need for an extended stay,” he said. “If it turns out that we don't need it for that long and we're able to send folks home because this was a miss, then we can send them home as soon as possible. That would be obviously the best outcome.”

Austin and Travis County have a partnership with Galveston to take in evacuees during storms. The city of Galveston announced a mandatory evacuation order Aug. 25, and Galveston County announced a mandatory evacuation order for the Bolivar Peninsula on Aug. 25 with voluntary evacuation orders for other areas. Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 23 counties ahead of the storm Aug. 24.

During past events the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan outlines shelters including local school campuses and large gathering spaces for evacuees to congregate and stay. This year, however, hotels will be utilized as shelter due to COVID-19 concerns, personal protective equipment will be available and social distancing will be encouraged, Bencivengo said.

“In coordination with the state and under recommendations from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], we are providing noncongregate sheltering, which in this case for us means hotel rooms,” he said.

The Circuits of the Americas, located at 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., Austin, is being prepared as a reception center, where evacuees will be screened for COVID-19 and directed to one of 15 hotels in the area for shelter beginning at 4 p.m. Aug. 25, Bencivengo said. Those from outside of Galveston County who show up to the reception area will be directed to the correct partnering county in the area.

Dynamic signs along the highway of evacuation routes leading to Central Texas will have information for evacuees. A phone number will also be released in the future to provide additional info to those in need, Bencivengo said, and city and county social media pages will be updated as information in available.

A list of hotels participating in the plan in Travis County has not yet been released.
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


Face coverings are now required for those entering polling places in Texas during the general election. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Citing racial discrimination, district court judge voids exemption to face covering order for voters, poll workers

A district judge's decision sided with arguments that an exemption to the statewide face covering order violated the Voting Rights Act due to disproportionate effects of COVID-19 for Black and Latino Americans.

The Native Plant Sale is open to reservations only through Nov. 22. (Courtesy Lady Bird Wildflower Center)
From fall festivals to 5Ks, here are 16 events to put on your calendar in Southwest Austin, Dripping Springs and around the region

From the virtual Texas Book Festival to ghost tours in Georgetown, find an event to attend this October and November.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir speaks to reporters Oct. 28 at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Travis County breaking voting records; clerk expects turnout to climb as high as 80%

More than 480,000 ballots have been cast in Travis County, surpassing the total from the 2016 presidential election.

Photo of new construction in process
South Austin developer sues city in ongoing saga to improve permitting process

An Austin developer alleged the city circumvented a state law that requires permitting to take place within 30 days.

Photo of boarded-up Sixth Street bars
With COVID-19 projections 'bleak' through Thanksgiving, Travis County keeps bars closed

Statistical models from the University of Texas show a 92% chance the pandemic is worsening, but the increase in cases and hospitalizations have leveled off in the last few days.

Slab BBQ owner Raf Robinson said the payroll protection program saved his restaurant. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
'I just need to pay the rent:' Austin small businesses in survival mode are doing everything in their power to outlast the pandemic

From selling inventory to flipping their business models to changing a yoga studio into a coworking space, small business owners are trying to avoid adding their names to the growing list of locally owned Austin institutions that have shut down.

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck. (Courtesy Nolan Ryan brands)
Nolan Ryan expands Round Rock-based butcher business and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Burnet Road at West Braker Lane
Corridor projects along South Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road will break ground by early 2021

Two corridor roadway projects approved in the city of Austin’s 2016 Mobility Bond are moving forward after recently receiving environmental clearances.

Screen shot of a Zoom board meeting
Dripping Springs ISD Superintendent Todd Washburn resigns; Brett Springston is named interim replacement

Less than a year after he was hired, Superintendent Todd Washburn is departing Dripping Springs ISD.

An "I Voted" sticker is left outside the Northwest Recreation Center in Austin, one of 37 early voting polling places open in Travis County. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of all Travis County voters have cast their ballots, exceeding early voting turnout percentage in 2016

More than 448,000 votes have been cast in Travis County. Early voting closes on Oct. 30.

Austin ISD trustees met Oct. 26, discussing in-person learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Twice as many Austin elementary students have returned to campus compared to first day of in-person instruction, district says

Austin ISD will open its campuses to accommodate all students who request in-person instruction beginning Nov. 2.