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Harvey evacuees face relief, worry at Houston convention center

By Kelly McCleary and Rosa Flores, CNN

(CNN) -- More than 9,000 people are dry and safe Tuesday at a temporary shelter in downtown Houston's convention center but are now struggling to come to grips with their new reality.

Thousands arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center after being plucked from rooftops by rescuers in helicopters or scooped up by volunteer emergency responders in boats. Many have lost everything to flooding wrought by Tropical Storm Harvey's relentless rains.

Keanna Hanna arrived early Tuesday after the elementary school she was sheltering in began to flood. Hanna said she and a friend were first rescued from floodwaters by kayak, then transported to Sheldon Elementary School on an Army truck.

Once conditions at the school deteriorated, Hanna said a convoy of 14 school buses brought people and their pets to the convention center.

Despite the journey, Hanna kept a smile on her face.

"At the end of the day, I'm blessed," Hanna said. "I know a lot of people are in this situation, a lot of people have lost homes, a lot of people have lost family members, a lot of people have nowhere to go. And just by the grace of God we were able to come here and have somewhere to stay."

As of early Tuesday morning, 9,021 evacuees had checked into the sprawling convention center on the east side of Houston's downtown.

"We will not turn anyone away," said Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Bob Mayer, who added that pets also are welcome at the massive shelter.

The center was initially set up with 5,000 cots, but Mayer said more are on the way. The Red Cross expect to have enough food to feed 20,000 people.

Red Cross Spokesperson Anthony Tornetta told CNN the agency readied supplies ahead of Harvey's arrival and is continuing to bring in more.

"We're going to ensure that people that have been affected have everything they need as they go forward," Tornetta said.

Those needs include mental health services and spiritual care, along with the basics of food and shelter.

Once evacuees arrive and go through a security screening, they check in. That's where volunteers begin assessing immediate and long-term needs.

For many, the enormity of the storm and its impact are just starting to settle in. Karen Preston said she's weathered hurricanes before, but she's "never seen anything like this."

Harvey's harrowing effects have left Preston "in pain, stressed and overwhelmed," she said.

Preston's journey to safety began with a jet ski. She was then taken to a boat, which dropped her, her husband, and her 17-year-old son off at a Walmart. From there a bus brought them to the convention center.

Preston has high blood pressure and is recovering from knee surgery. Since the storm hit she said she's already waited in many long lines for help. When she arrived at the convention center and was given a blanket and pillow, it was enough to bring her to tears -- a sign of the mental and emotional stress many evacuees are experiencing.

The convention center also has an area where volunteers can drop off donations. Right now, they're in desperate need of wheelchairs, hospital socks and blankets, said Andrew Kincannon of Houston Fire EMS. The center's website says that clothing, baby formula, bottled water and non-perishable food also are needed.

Tornetta, the Red Cross spokesman, said the agency has more than 30 shelters set up throughout the Gulf Coast region. Some evacuees may be transferred to other locations to make sure everyone has a roof over their head, he said.

Dallas, hundreds of miles to the north, also is preparing to open a mega-shelter for Harvey evacuees at its downtown convention center.

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