Texas pastor Joel Osteen responds to online backlash over not opening his megachurch to Harvey victims

Michelle Mark

Texas televangelist Joel Osteen spoke out on Monday after receiving a bevy of online criticism over not opening the massive Lakewood Church to flood victims for days.

Osteen told ABC News on Monday the Houston megachurch "will continue to be a distribution center for those in need" and had been "prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity."

The Houston megachurch announced late Tuesday morning it had begun receiving people displaced by Tropical Storm Harvey.

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Osteen had faced intense backlash after tweeting prayers for Harvey victims while Lakewood Church — the former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets that seats 16,000 people — remained empty for days.

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A spokesman on Monday disputed to CNN the criticisms that had been levied against the church.

"We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need," Lakewood Church spokesman Donald Iloff told the network.

Yet a Facebook post on Sunday had said the megachurch was "inaccessible due to severe flooding" and directed residents to other Houston shelters, which have been taking in thousands of displaced victims.

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Iloff told CNN that at least three people who had sought help from the church were redirected to Houston's George Brown Convention Center, which has accepted roughly 7,000 people.

The church provided photos that showed standing water in parts of the building, which Iloff said Monday had begun to recede.

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Social media users had fired back at the church, offering up their own photos and videos that showed a relatively dry church parking lot.

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