Emergency management authorities in Bell County ramped up preparations Friday ahead of Hurricane Harvey's anticipated landfall along the Texas coast, which prompted thousands of Texans to evacuate and head north toward Central Texas.
Law enforcement officials in Bell County said shelters would be opened early Saturday morning. The Bell County Expo Center, located at 301 W Loop 121 in Belton, was scheduled to be used as a reception area for evacuees, who would then be escorted by sheriff's deputies to various shelters in one of several Bell County cities.
Operations at the Expo Center began at 9 a.m. Saturday, according to authorities, who anticipated an influx of roughly 500 evacuees. During a press conference Friday afternoon, officials said they could handle another 500 evacuees with the help of local churches which would serve as shelters, if needed. After that, authorities would likely need to send refugees further north on I-35 to Dallas.
Counties throughout inland Texas are paired with Texas coastal counties to house its evacuees. Bell County is paired with Brazoria County. Officials in Brazoria County must issue a county-wide evacuation in order for evacuees to come to central Texas.
"Brazario County has chosen to not evacuate," Bell County Sheriff's Department Lt. Donnie Adams said. "However, they've told their residents if they want to self evacuate to report here. So, we are prepared to receive who ever might self evacuate to this facility."
Those who choose to self-evacuate will be taken care of. The Bell County Expo Center will seat nearly 500 people.
Earlier on Friday, the City of Killeen announced it had set up a shelter at the Killeen Community Center, which would be open to Killeen residents, if they were displaced from their homes.
In McLennan County, both county officials and the City of Waco said their shelter operations had not been activated, as of early Friday afternoon. However, authorities in McLennan County said they had already identified several potential shelter spots that could be activated quickly if the state needs to do so.
Asked by Channel 6 News Reporter Jillian Angeline why shelters were not opening Friday, officials in Bell County said the state planned for the Austin area to handle refugees Friday night before forwarding overflow refugees northward to Bell County on Saturday.
Any organizations that want to open their facility for evacuees can email Rebecca Eaton with the Bell County Emergency Management office at firstname.lastname@example.org.