Fifteen years ago, Alma Casas realized a dream when she bought her house in this sprawling city. A widow, she had come from the northeast Mexican city of Tamaulipas to work and seek a better life for herself and her three children.
Since Harvey stormed into southeast Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing torrential rain, her dream house has become a nightmare.
"Well, everything is under water right now. … The house is covered with water," Casas said as two of her now-grown sons hovered nearby in the room of a Holiday Garden Inn.
The hotel room has become a temporary home for the family, including a daughter-in-law and Casas’ 6-year-old granddaughter.
Casas said the first thing she thought about was her family’s safety. But, "I think about how much my house cost me, and then to start all over again." Her voice trailed off as she gave a deep sigh. "Everything, everything stayed in there."
She’d considered sheltering at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, but authorities confirmed that it had reached its capacity for 5,000 people by late Monday. Evacuees had streamed into the massive hall on foot and by bus, carrying children and precious possessions, grateful to find cots and blankets.
Some people had been retrieved by National Guard and local fire and rescue teams.
Tens of thousands were expected to require shelter, Federal Emergency Management Administration official Brock Long said Monday.
"This shelter mission to going to be a very heavy lift," Long said. "We're anticipating over 30,000 people being placed in shelters temporarily to stabilize the situation and provide for their care."
On the city's emergency website, the American Red Cross’ Texas Gulf Coast Chapter has appealed “for volunteers to assist in [its] sheltering operations in Houston."
Houston city officials also tried to tamp down speculation that immigration authorities would apprehend undocumented immigrants seeking shelter.
A tweet early Tuesday on the city’s official Twitter account read: “We will not ask for immigration status or papers from anyone at the shelter. This rumor is FALSE!”
The Insurance Information Institute estimates that of Houston’s 2.3 million residents, only 15 percent – or 345,000 – have flood insurance. The New York Times on Monday predicted Harvey may bring losses of as much as $30 billion.