SAN ANTONIO – Fleeing the path of Hurricane Laura, evacuees from the Texas and Louisiana continued to pour into San Antonio Wednesday.
As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 2,103 evacuees had passed through the central processing station on Gembler Road, from where they are sent to area hotels. Hundreds of vehicles were lined up for a full mile, wrapping around AT&T Center Parkway and onto Houston Street, as a fuel truck pumped gas straight into the tanks of cars stuck waiting for hours.
WATCH: More than 2,000 evacuees in San Antonio hotels; VIA joins relief efforts by bussing people from shelters to hotels
Unlike a typical hurricane evacuation, evacuees are being set up in free hotel rooms rather than mass shelters to avoid the spread of COVID-19 that could come with congregate settings like that. But the flood of people has the city scrambling to keep up with the demand for rooms.
The city, which opened up the processing center Tuesday afternoon, had expected about 300 people to arrive the first night. While about that many came on buses, which they could track, another 1,100 or so came in their own cars, said San Antonio Fire Department spokesman Joe Arrington.
The unexpected surge of people came as the city did not have all of its hotel contracts finalized. As a result, many of those who arrived overnight Tuesday received a one-night voucher for a hotel stay and had to return to wait in line again Wednesday to be assigned for a longer stay.
Arrington said while the city can track how many people are coming in on buses, there’s no way to account for how many families will choose to come to San Antonio instead of another city.
As of Wednesday evening, officials were continuing to get contracts for hotel rooms in which evacuees could stay at least five or seven days, depending on the contract, Arrington said. However, he noted the contracts have to each be negotiated with the individual hotel companies, which slowed the processing of evacuees.
“Hotels.com doesn’t do shelters, unfortunately,” Arrington said.
Arrington said the cost of the hotels should end up being reimbursed through the state, and indicated that any limits on finding rooms would be availability rather than cost. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s little shortage of vacant rooms.
Evacuees arriving in San Antonio have to pass through the processing center at 200 Gambler Road before being assigned a hotel room. They’re screened for COVID-19 upon arriving, Arrington said, and there are medics on scene to help anybody who is symptomatic.
Waiting in line Wednesday afternoon, Jalyn Fontenot said his group from Port Arthur hadn’t set out with any direction in mind. Instead, he said, they called 211 to get information.
“We didn’t want to go to Austin. We didn’t want to go to Dallas. It’s a little too far. But, hey, we here,” Fontenot said.
A few cars back, Kareem Ceaser and his family were coming from Lake Charles, La. He said family suggested they come this way.
“We hoping, man, we have a home to go home to,” Ceaser said. “Because this hurricane is going to take out everything that way.”