NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The Nacogdoches Civic Center is undergoing a rapid transformation to help shelter evacuees who are fleeing the path of Hurricane Laura.
The point-to-point evacuees are arriving from Jasper and Newton counties through an agreement with Nacogdoches County. The county has agreed to provide space for anyone who does not have a means for transportation or any place to go.
Up to 100 evacuees come from Jasper and Newton counties. That’s a third of the number of evacuees normally housed at the civic center.
”We changed the standard. We can’t hold nearly the amount of the people we used to because we are putting safety distancing and other safety measures in place,” said Scott Brawley, disaster program manager in Deep East Texas for American Red Cross.
Everyone who finds shelter at the civic center will be required to wear masks and asked to observe CDC social distancing guidelines. The shelter even set up an isolation area for anyone who either self-identifies or shows symptoms of COVID-19. No-touch meals will be served to further minimize the contact guests, volunteers, and staff have with each other.
“If you can see the spacing between the cots, you can see there’s six-foot spacing between all of the cots in every dimension. We’ve got aisleways and accessways to be able to get in,” said Chip Pickering, a shelter manager from Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Pickering said although staff and volunteers are contending with a worldwide pandemic and a Category 4 hurricane, he doesn’t feel any more worried than usual. The precautions are for everyone’s safety, the volunteers, the evacuees, and the communities where they return.
“In this world, we’re constantly in contact with people and we’re wiping down all the surfaces; we’re doing everything we’re told to do,” Pickering said. “The Red Cross is drilled on ‘this is how we’re going to try to protect not only our clients but our staff members as well.’ So, I feel as confident as I can. But of course, there’s more of a risk being here than at home watching TV, but this is what we do.”
The first organized groups are expected to arrive in Nacogdoches County around noon on Wednesday, and more buses are expected throughout the day. The Red Cross expects the civic center to serve as a shelter for at least through Friday. Once the storm passes, assessments will determine when everyone can return home.