MESQUITE — Aria, Ava, Arthur Jr., and Addison Washington sat under the shade of a tree in blue surgical masks Wednesday morning, while they waited for shelter from Hurricane Laura.



a person holding a cell phone: Tammy Washington gets a hug from her 2-year-old granddaughter, Aria, 2, as they and their family waits for a hotel voucher after driving all night from Orange, Texas, to reach the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday.


© Lynda M. Gonzu00e1lez/The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
Tammy Washington gets a hug from her 2-year-old granddaughter, Aria, 2, as they and their family waits for a hotel voucher after driving all night from Orange, Texas, to reach the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday. “There will be a lot of devastation,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a press conference.

Tammy Washington, of Orange, said she left town Tuesday afternoon and drove to Beaumont to pick up her four grandchildren, her daughter, her son and her son’s fiancée.

They are among the thousands of residents from Galveston to Beaumont, whose cities were under evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Laura. Some evacuees arrived in North Texas late Tuesday.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the state is relying less on traditional group shelters and instead is providing vouchers for evacuees to stay at area hotels until the storm passes.

Washington lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and had to be rescued, and also needed to be rescued during Hurricane Harvey. After those experiences, she said she’s not taking chances anymore.



a group of people standing around a bus: Emergency personnel stand by a vehicle for the City of Mesquite Office of Emergency Management while receiving hurricane evacuees at the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday.


© Lynda M. Gonzu00e1lez/The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
Emergency personnel stand by a vehicle for the City of Mesquite Office of Emergency Management while receiving hurricane evacuees at the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday. “There will be a lot of devastation,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a press conference.

Hurricane Laura was blowing winds up to 140 mph on Wednesday, and it was expected to make landfall somewhere between the Texas-Louisiana border late Wednesday or early Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters at the center warned that the Category 4 storm could produce an “unsurvivable storm surge” and “devastating wind damage” where it makes landfall.



a man standing in front of a car: Arthur Washington (left) speaks with his children, Ava, 3, Arthur Jr., 4, and Addison, 5, as they wait by their vehicle to receive a hotel voucher after driving all night from Orange, Texas, to reach the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday.


© Lynda M. Gonzu00e1lez/The Dallas Morning News/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
Arthur Washington (left) speaks with his children, Ava, 3, Arthur Jr., 4, and Addison, 5, as they wait by their vehicle to receive a hotel voucher after driving all night from Orange, Texas, to reach the Mesquite Reception Center set up for hurricane evacuees in Mesquite, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Weather forecasters have said Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana at midnight on Thursday. “There will be a lot of devastation,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a press conference.

“I don’t play around,” Washington said. “If it’s a Category 1, I’m getting out.”

The family of eight crammed into Washington’s maroon Nissan Murano and arrived in Mesquite around 7 p.m. Tuesday. With no money for a hotel, the eight slept in the SUV Tuesday night.

“When you’ve been through it, you have a whole ‘nother outlook,” Washington said. “We’re not worried about our things.”

They barely had enough money for gas to get to Mesquite on Tuesday. A good samaritan at the gas station where they slept filled up their tank for them in the morning.

“It’s all gonna work out,” Washington told herself. “Just stay encouraged.”

Early Wednesday, they drove to a reception center set up by the state in Mesquite. Washington wasn’t sure what to expect at the center. She said she had heard through word of mouth that it could be a shelter, others told her she could get a hotel voucher there.

Mesquite is one of four cities that are hosting evacuees. Its reception center is located in the parking lot of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service off of Interstate 20. Rows of orange cones in the lot guided busses and evacuees in their own vehicles through lanes where they could get information on next steps.

Buses provided by the state arrived at the center Wednesday with evacuees, where they were screened for COVID-19 symptoms and given hotel vouchers.

Those who had driven to the center on their own were told they’d have to wait for vouchers, Washington said.

“We’re asking for your patience,” a Texas State trooper updated dozens of evacuees Tuesday morning.

At a Wednesday news conference, Texas Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said hotels in the Dallas area were at about 39{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} occupancy, and that officials were working to get hotels for those who had evacuated on their own.

“There are still plenty of hotels available,” Kidd said. “We’ll get this balanced out.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins signed an emergency disaster declaration Tuesday to help set up a system that would provide hotel rooms for those evacuating the Texas coast. Jenkins said the county and the city of Dallas would front the money to be reimbursed 100{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} by the state.

“North Texans should be proud of their welcoming spirit and how the people of Dallas County always step up to help neighbors in need,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “This will be done without increased risk of infection to the community.”

To prevent further spread of COVID-19 as hurricane evacuees come to North Texas, Jenkins said no one in Dallas County will be denied COVID-19 testing or services.

“The people fleeing Hurricane Laura are no more likely to have COVID-19 than members of the general population anywhere in Texas,” Jenkins said.

Convention centers may need to be used as shelters as a last resort, Kidd said.

The state’s plan follows guidelines set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain social distancing in group shelters.

But the plan can’t guarantee shelters will be able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, FEMA admits.

For those who do need to go to a public shelter, the plan suggests bringing hand sanitizers, cleaning materials, and masks or face coverings.

Washington said she was frustrated she had to wait hours for a hotel voucher, but said she understood the precautions the state was taking to avoid group shelter which could potentially further spread COVID-19.

“People’s anxiety is on high,” Washington said. “You gotta remember that a pandemic is happening.”

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