Life in a Texas hurricane shelter

The stress of being evacuated because of Harvey is taking its toll on some of the thousands who've ended up in emergency shelters throughout Texas.

Evacuees face theft and other challenges as 30,000 Texans arrive in emergency centres

Thousands of Texans have been forced into shelters like this one in San Antonio. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"You just gotta keep moving, gotta keep going forward."

That's what Ian Shader tells himself as he walks back and forth along a suburban San Antonio, Texas, street.

He's been stuck — trapped  he says — in the nearby shelter four, five days. He says he can't remember exactly — it's all starting to run together.

"We were told you have 'X' amount of time to get to the civic centre and be bused out of here, or you ain't getting a ride out of here," he said.

Ian Shader of Corpus Christi, Texas, says some people in the shelter 'can't handle the stress and they'll snap.' (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

His house in Corpus Christi, Texas — not far from the where hurricane made landfall — has likely now been reduced  to raw materials.

"I saw the flood damage from photos," Shader said. "I've seen reports from people giving me information left and right. Odds are all my stuff is totalled."

To top it off, he has no idea if his relatives who stayed behind are still alive.

"Honestly, I don't (know) and I don't speak around my kids. because I don't want them in tears and crying," Shader said.

Shader, a New Jersey native, lived through Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012.

"It feels like a kiddie pool compared to what happened here," Shader says. "I've had to restart and pick up my life so many times I stopped counting."

Now he and his two kids have joined hundreds of others in calling Abraham Kazen Middle School home. They're among the thousands of Texans in shelters across the state. Authorities say some 30,000 people may need to leave their homes.

Many of those who've fled to San Antonio dream of going back to their homes soon. They're fooling themselves, Shader says.

People inside say the shelter is 'getting meaner' day by day as evacuees get more and more frustrated. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"I'm going to guess it might be a month before they get everything up and running — and I'm being optimistic," he said. "And on top of it, I don't know if there's anything to go back to."

After being cooped up for this long, Shrader says the people in the shelter are starting to change.

"Barbarism and whatnot and just plain meanness," he said.

Thefts and fighting

First someone stole his phone. Then, he says, the problems escalated.

"They will sit there and rip kids out of line to go fight for a little snack. They'll knock women down just for a bite to eat …. Some people just can't handle the stress and they'll snap. Others still stay human and still do what's right."

Michael Pomeran says he keeps sane in the shelter by playing guitar and volunteering. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Michael Pomeran is trying to stay human at the shelter by playing guitar (poorly, he admits) and volunteering to help those who need more help than he does.

"Just help pass out food, help old people get up and down off the curb, stuff like that," Pomeran said. "Wherever I can help."

He has a soft spot for the elderly, especially because his grandmother in Houston is likely even worse off. She lives near one of the dams that engineers have opened and he hasn't heard from her since the hurricane hit.

'We need to help each other'

"I'm really worried about her," Pomeran said. "It's really bad flooding over there. They're letting all the flood gates go and everything, so all the water is going right through there."

Volunteers are doing the best they can to keep everyone comfortable.

Lydia Mendoza, for instance, stopped by to donate some adult diapers for seniors. She and her husband ferry boxes inside, despite their own medical problems: Mendoza has diabetes and is wearing a medical boot on one foot.

"There's just so much hardship out there, so so much sadness," she said. "So yeah, we need to help each other."

But it's not enough.

Shader has narcolepsy. Getting medication so far from home, he said, is almost impossible. 

"I just got to keep moving," he said.

And so he does: down the road, it doesn't matter where.

Keep moving. Keep going forward. And most important: don't think about how long it'll be before he can finally stop.


Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.