Shelter from the storm

Like an old thorn they can no longer remove, memories of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita stuck with hundreds of evacuees as they fled the Gulf Coast this weekend and arrived in Huntsville with hopes of avoiding a repeat with Hurricane Gustav.

With the Category 3 storm bearing down on the Louisiana and Southeast Texas coasts on Sunday, Sam Houston State opened its doors to more than 200 students from Lamar University in Beaumont as well as numerous animals, including pets and livestock, brought to the university Agriculture Center over the weekend.

“We took on 12 hour shifts so that we could provide security for the students staying in the HKC, and we were put on standby in case Johnson Coliseum had to be opened up as a shelter,” University Police Chief Kevin Morris said.

According to Morris, UPD coordinated efforts with Walker County Emergency Management to handle the evacuees and the on-campus shelter activities. The students, who arrived late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, are being housed in classrooms in the Health and Kinesiology Center and are expected to return to Beaumont sometime today.

“We took in students from Lamar [in 2005] during Hurricane Rita, so we’ve done this before,” Morris said. “We instituted better planning after Rita and this time we were better prepared.”

The Sam Houston State Ag. Center served as an evacuation site for those fleeing the storm to house their animals until the danger passed. According to a report from The Houston Chronicle, the center had taken in a variety of animals, including nine dogs, two rats, a cat, a cow, a horse and a frog, as of Sunday afternoon.

According to Barbara Collins, Small Animal Chair, Governor Rick Perry mandated that all evacuation hubs also provide animal shelters for human evacuees to utilize after Hurricane Katrina revealed inadequacies in the system.

During Hurricane Rita, Huntsville housed more than 500 animals at the Walker County Fairgrounds as a part of compliance with the new ordinances.

Huntsville High School, which was the first shelter to open in Walker County, took in several hundred evacuees and nearly 800 people found shelter in Huntsville ISD buildings, forcing the district to cancel school on Tuesday.

Johnson Coliseum, which was opened during Hurricane Rita, was not needed for Gustav.

“Everything is going well,” Morris said. “I’m just ready to go home and get some sleep.”

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