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No guns, no smoking: Storm shelter Texas-style

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WINNIE (UNITED STATES) -  No guns, no pets, no smoking: these are the rules at the Red Cross shelter in Winnie, Texas. Yet as super storm Harvey forces more and more Americans to flee their homes, few are complaining.

In this small town, a school cafeteria has been transformed into a clean, dry resting place for more than 400 people who may need it. Brisket with baked beans and potato salad was offered for dinner.

On the wall, multiple screens pump out colorful scenes and dulcet songs from the Cartoon Network -- by design, not coincidence.


It's to "calm everybody," explains Ray Henrichson, 74, a Red Cross volunteer shelter manager who got the space off the ground in just hours as more and more people streamed out of flood-affected communities.

"Give them something to think about besides their problems."

Henrichson and her 78-year-old husband RJ, who have won numerous awards for years of Red Cross work, will spend the foreseeable future living full-time at the shelter to help their charges.

"They're usually in shock. Fearful of the unknown," she tells AFP. "A lot of them have withdrawal because they don't know what to expect. A lot of them have anxiety attacks."

- Adventurous spirits -

Many of the first arrivals were bussed from Mount Belvieu, just outside Houston, where city workers gave them a five-minute warning to get out. Some passed up to four feet of water on the road.

Sixty-eight people have already arrived. A baby cried as a mother struggled to put to bed three excitable children. A woman resting on cot nearby, mindful of the rules, popped out for a cigarette.

"The elderly man back there told me he said 'they didn't let me get my glasses or my debit card.' He could hardly walk," said Henrichson. "He didn't even have any clothes."

The back of the hall was given over to neat rows of slim cots, carefully made up for bed with blankets or sleeping bags. Towels are handed out. There are rest rooms -- but no showers.

"I guess we can go outside and stand around," joked Carla Parker, a 58-year-old nurse bedded down next to twin sister and fellow nurse Darla Fitzgerald and brother-in-law Howard, 70.

No one knows how long they will be here. The school year was meant to resume Monday but few expect it to start up much before next week.

"Here in America, the country was founded on people with adventurous spirits," says Darla, who has seen her fair share of hurricanes, but is spending her first ever night in a shelter.

"We're not camping, but it's an adventure and at the end of it we'll wind up somewhere else and start a new adventure."

- 'Chickens with heads cut off' -

The Fitzgeralds heeded the five-minute warning in a flash. They didn't need to be told twice: the electricity was off and flood waters lapped the bottom steps of their RV.

They flung a change of clothes, medication and a laptop in a suitcase and boarded a bus to higher ground.

"A little displaced," says Darla when asked how she feels. "But better than sleeping in an RV running down the river."

The Fitzgeralds defended Houston's decision not to order mandatory evacuations before the storm struck.

"Nobody was prepared for the onslaught," said Darla. "We would have been wandering around like chickens with our heads cut off not knowing where to go, where was safe, where wasn't."

Outside the night skies poured and lightening crashed over Winnie. With more rain expected Tuesday, few expect they will be able to go home as quickly as they'd like.

But they did welcome President Donald Trump's prospective visit. "We're Trumponites. I trust he's going to take care of us, he said he would so I'm sure he's going to," said Darla.

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Muslim Global: No guns, no smoking: Storm shelter Texas-style
No guns, no smoking: Storm shelter Texas-style
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