After spending three days in a Huntsville hotel, evacuees Telesha Whitaker and Shanae Nelson, of Houston, were out of money and out of steam.
Sitting on $8 to their name, they didn’t know where to go. They stopped at a gas station where an attendant told them about two shelters in town.
Whitaker, 40, and Nelson, 33, were two of the first people to stay at the Huntsville High School shelter that opened Monday.
The school was the second shelter in town to open to people fleeing the effects of Tropical Storm Harvey. Because a tree crashed into its power lines, the high school opened a day later than expected.
From Monday to Tuesday, the number of evacuees at the high school increased from more than 20 to more than 110.
Sitting in the Huntsville High School cafeteria with an ice pack on her neck Monday, Whitaker was stunned.
A knot welled on her neck and her knee was swollen from slipping when leaving her house in Houston. All of her clothes were soiled. She had cried all Sunday night and Monday morning and she was exhausted.
Sitting at southwest corner of the city, her duplex was 6 feet under water, she said. She had left her home to go to Nelson’s apartment on the eastern edge of the city, which seemed safe at the time.
They quickly found out they were wrong. Watching the water get higher, they called the Red Cross, FEMA, 911 and even a local TV station. They couldn’t get help. So they hopped in Nelson’s car with the little clothes they had and drove to Huntsville. Neighbors back in Nelson’s complex were still waiting to be rescued as of Monday, Nelson said. She was also told by one of her neighbors that they saw the body of an elderly woman floating in the parking lot.
“I would have (been) right there with them if I hadn’t left them,” Whitaker said, as Nelson nodded in agreement.
Before coming to the shelter, the two were skeptical and considered sleeping in their car for a few days.
“Since we walked through the door, they were very welcoming, very nice,” Whitaker said.
They were able to get cots next to each other and were reassured to see officers in the shelters to keep them safe. A local volunteer named Bonnie asked them their sizes for clothes and shoes while they ate a meal provided by the shelter.
Bonnie had prayed with them when they first got to the shelter, Whitaker said, which uplifted their spirits. Now, when despair descends, Whitaker sings a gospel song and Nelson jumps in.
“We plan on staying as long as they don’t throw us out,” Whitaker said.
Nelson, a native Houstonian, said she plans on going back to the city once the storm clears up. She’s worried about her kids who are trapped there with their father.
Whitaker, after living through three major floods, said she was buying the first ticket she could to California.
“I’m tired of losing,” Whitaker said. “It’s time for a win.”