COTA Reopens As Rest Area For Hurricane Laura Evacuees In Need Of Hotel Rooms

Aug 26, 2020

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The City of Austin is no longer turning away Hurricane Laura evacuees after the Circuit of the Americas was reopened as a rest area Wednesday at 10 a.m.

People heading through Austin who do not want to use COTA as a rest stop can call 211 for help finding the next closest shelter. Evacuees can also sign up for updates via text message by texting the word "ATXShelter" to 888-777. They can also call 512-978-1510 to get updates by text.

At around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, the city's available hotel rooms hit capacity. City spokesperson Bryce Bencivengo said evacuees were then told to travel to the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ennis, Texas — about 30 miles south of Dallas.

On Tuesday, the city said 15 hotels would house people escaping what is expected to become a Category 4 hurricane. The state had requested Austin host up to 3,000 evacuees, but the city did not have an estimate on how many it would be able to house.

Evacuees were first bused to the Circuit of the Americas in southern Travis County before being transferred to hotels.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, state leaders clarified the situation that led to the earlier closure of COTA as an evacuation center. Some evacuees had gone straight to hotel rooms instead of the racetrack first to obtain vouchers, Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said. The Austin Convention Center may be opened to evacuees if needed, he said.

Texas State University is housing 60-70 students and staff from Lamar University in Beaumont, according to the student newspaper.  The University Star reported that students and staff were forced to evacuate and arrived Tuesday. Many will be housed in dorms as they wait out the storm.

Laura is currently projected to strike the Texas-Louisiana border overnight, causing widespread flash flooding and damage from hurricane-force winds.

Nadia Hamdan and Samuel King contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.