VICTORIA, Texas ― When the mandatory evacuation order for this southeastern Texas town came Thursday, the first thing Sabrina Hallam thought about was where to send her guests. The La Quinta Inn in Victoria, where she works as a general manager, was fully booked with people who had evacuated from towns along the coast.
But once the guests were gone, Hallam ― along with some other staff members and the hotel’s owner, Jitan Patel ― decided to stay put.
“We were thinking, ‘When this thing is over, this hotel is going to be needed,’” Hallam told HuffPost. “We can give people beds.”
While a sign on the front door warned that the area had been evacuated, about 70 people ― plus a collection of pets including dogs, cats and at least one rabbit ― were hunkered down at the inn Saturday afternoon, waiting out Hurricane Harvey as it lingered over the region.
Those who stayed had faced a rough night Friday, as Harvey made landfall. Wind speeds measured at over 100 miles a hour knocked down electric poles, blew out several of the hotel’s windows and sent a sign from the McDonald’s across the street spinning down the pavement, kicking up sparks as it went.
One wall of a tower atop the beige, four-story hotel was completely ripped off as of Saturday, and some of the surrounding wood was charred. “I don’t know what happened to the tower, but we could hear it,” Hallam said. “It sounded like someone drove a truck into the building.”
Inside, the 70-some people, including members of Hallam’s family, were still waiting for the worst of Harvey to pass. They’d lost power overnight, but a generator allowed them to keep their phones charged and a portable gas stove in the kitchen allowed them to cook.
Around Victoria, debris was scattered and power lines sagged. While the hurricane’s winds had started to die down, reducing it to a tropical storm as of Saturday afternoon, the rain continued to fall and the threat of flooding remained. Forecasts for the area called for 20 or more inches of rain, presenting a high risk of catastrophic flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Shane Castillo and his fiancée, Cristina Narajano, were among the people gathered at the hotel Saturday.
The couple had been living on the streets for the last six months, after Castillo lost a job in construction right before an emergency back operation. Their luck had finally changed three days ago, when they moved into a five-room house that they were helping the landlord refurbish.
But the storm winds knocked a big tree onto the house, tearing open the roof, Castillo told HuffPost. They stayed as the rain poured inside until around 6:30 a.m., when dawn began to break. Then they set out on foot looking for shelter.
“We were just coming out here and by God’s grace these people let us in,” Castillo said. “If it wasn’t for this hotel, I don’t know where we’d be right now.”
They said they were uncertain what they would do once the storm passed and the flood waters receded. “It was hard enough finding help in the first place,” Narajano said, referring to the couple’s previous housing struggles. “Now, everyone’s going to need help.”
Hallam’s father, Morris Maretick, who had come inland from his farm to ride out the storm, wasn’t sure whether his house was still standing. The 60-year-old said he tried to check on it Saturday, but couldn’t pass through a series of downed electric poles.
Hallam said she’d already heard that one of her employees lost her home: “The apartment is gone, but she’s safe so far.”
Trees and power lines were down across many of the roadways in Victoria, making some of them impassable. Windows were boarded up or taped over, and gas stations, stores and restaurants remained closed. Yet a number of vehicles were driving around. The Texas National Guard was out assessing the damage here.
There was no widespread flooding, but some low-lying streets were already under water, with more rain expected to continue overnight.