Last night, a few friends and I went down to the Astrodome to volunteer our time during the graveyard shift. We were assigned to the Reliant Center, which is a LARGE exhibition hall next to the stadium - from one end to the other, it is a half-mile long. Over 5,000 cots (my estimate - the Houston Chronicle says 8,000) were set up, but we counted only 450 people there last night. We were expecting 45 buses from New Orleans, but they never showed up. Instead, we later heard they continued on to Dallas, including a bus of 150 "lost kids" who would be helped by CPS.
But on the Chronicle's website, it says "The Astrodome housed 15,000 evacuees Friday night, with 3,000 at Reliant Arena and 8,000 at Reliant Center, Red Cross spokeswoman Denise Bishop said." WHERE WERE THEY??? I was right there, but there were definitely not 8,000 at the Center last night. We kept waiting for this huge deluge of people that never showed up.
At 2 a.m., we started packing up sandwiches, trying to save them, since they would have to be thrown away if they were at all warm (at the beginning of the night, they were frozen, so they could potentially last at least another day). How incredibly sad! There are so many people out there hurting right now, and we couldn't get them to a place where we had beds, food and supplies for them. We heard stories of people camped outside the Astrodome, who were turned away because the Astrodome because it was packed...all they had to do was come to the Reliant Center across the complex, but they weren't told that.
There is an enormous interfaith movement happening here in Houston, with all the faith communities banding together to provide food at these large shelters for the next month. My prayer at this moment is that there will be people that we need to serve there. Not that I pray people NEED the food, but that the people who are stranded all over the Deep South will be able to come here to get refuge. From what I understand, the people of Hosuton are waiting to reach out to them - now, we just need people to help. Just like us last night - we wanted to help in some tangible way, but we didn't feel all that needed. Though I do know that some other volunteer would have been there if I had not, so they were able to use that person somewhere else because I was there.
I do know that the Astrodome IS filled. I didn't go over myself, but all the guys working with us took sandwiches over there as we started to pack up for breakfast. They were incredibly overwhelmed by what they saw - people packed in, sleeping wherever they could and grabbing for the sandwiches that they carried.
I just wish we could be helping more where they need it most - in Louisiana and Mississippi, where these people have been promised food everyday while they wait for evacuation, but they are literally starving until help arrives.