Storm-hit Houston reels from influx of evacuees, crime outbreak

HOUSTON, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Houston strained under the arrival of tens of thousands of people fleeing submerged homes and flooded roads on Wednesday and faced an outbreak of looting and armed robberies that forced a midnight curfew.

The city opened the George R. Brown Convention Center over the weekend with a plan to house 5,000 people and be run largely by American Red Cross volunteers. The center's size quickly doubled, as people streamed in from areas south and west of the city. Despite promising two more "mega" centers early Tuesday, Houston opened one, at a basketball arena, and two smaller centers.

That proved too little for county officials who set up their own location as an outbreak of looting and armed robberies prompted the city to order an indefinite curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. (0500 to 1000 GMT).

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People evacuate by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Volunteers unload evacuee Taylor Mitchell from a rescue vehicle at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Men look for people wanting to be evacuated from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuee Pete Quintana Jr. is wrapped in a blanket at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A man carries a child after being evacuated by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated by a high water truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in a collector's vintage military truck belonging to a volunteer in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in an armored police mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Sterling Broughton is moved from a rescue boat onto a kayak after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey rose in Dickenson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Barb Davis, 74. is helped to dry land after being rescued from her flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A boy and girl hug their grandmothers' dogs after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rescuers help a woman from a flooded retirement home into a boat after Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People wait for a ride to a shelter after being rescued from a flooded neighborhood when it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Dean Mize holds children as he and Jason Legnon use an airboat to rescue people from homes that are inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said late Tuesday individuals impersonating police officers knocked on doors in at least two parts of the city telling residents to evacuate their homes.

Saying it spent days trying to coordinate an emergency plan with city, federal and county officials, Harris County officials late Tuesday decided to open a separate shelter for 10,000 people at a county-owned exhibition hall.

"The Red Cross was pretty much overwhelmed," the county's chief administrator, Ed Emmett, said at a news conference late Tuesday. After joint efforts didn't come together, Emmett said officials decided "we can't wait. We need to get this done."

A county-owned exhibition hall, the NRG Center, was opened at 10 p.m. local time Tuesday. Emmett said it would be staffed in part by members of the National Guard.

More than 3,000 Houston homes were underwater and thousands more were threatened by two reservoirs swollen by an estimated 35 inches (90 cm) of rain.

In Brazoria County south of Houston, a levee broke on Tuesday morning, and the county's chief administrator urged residents to "get out now."

Mandatory evacuation orders covered Brazoria, Galveston and Fort Bend counties south and west of Houston, and officials issued calls for people to leave voluntarily across the region.

Some 9,000 people were at the nearly 2-million-square-foot Houston convention center early Tuesday, and local officials began searching for two additional sites as more headed to the city.

Officials defended a decision not to call for a mass evacuation because of the dangers posed by such a move. A 2005 evacuation ahead of Hurricane Rita turned into a nightmare for many in Texas and Louisiana who found themselves trapped on clogged roadways and running out of fuel.

Area churches and aid organizations donated clothing, bedding and food for those forced to leave their home. The American Red Cross brought at least 1,000 volunteers to staff the city's convention center, and provided cots, blankets and food for 34,000 across the region, officials said.

Houston called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to send cots, other supplies and food to help 10,000 people "as soon as possible," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. The main shelter was initially expected to take in 5,000 people, but more than 2,000 arrived late on Monday, and the numbers swelled.

Among them were Maria Davila, 56, her husband, daughter, and two grandchildren, who arrived Monday night after their Houston home was flooded.

"We left our cars and belongings and starting swimming," she said. "We don't know how long we will be here."

Dulcie Alexander, 44, was trapped along with several other drivers by heavy water on a highway Saturday night. She and a group of 15 others spent the night in their cars. On Sunday morning they made their way to a fire station, and were ferried to the convention center.

City officials prepared to vote Wednesday to allocate $20 million to storm relief, said city Controller Chris Brown. "Houston will have enough money to handle this storm," he said.

RELATED: Animals being rescued during Hurricane Harvey

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Animals being rescued during Hurricane Harvey
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Animals being rescued during Hurricane Harvey
A man carries a dog after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state thats home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A boy hugs his grandmothers' dog after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state thats home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27: Volunteers and officers from the neiborhood security patrol help to rescue residents and their dogs in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27 2017: Elma Moreno comforts her dog, Simon as they are loaded on to a trucks after being evacuated from their flooded apartment. Tropical Storm Harvey is causing major flooding throughout Houston and Southeast Texas. (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A man carries a dog after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey at the Highland Glen housing development in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state thats home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bentley, a 10 year old maltese, takes refuge with his owner in a school after they lost their home to Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Pets are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People and their pets are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey on a boat in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Kenneth and Minnie Bice prepare to sleep outside the M.O. Campbell Red Cross shelter in Aldine, Texas, United States August 28, 2017. Pets are not allowed inside and so the two are sleeping on the portico with their two dogs and a cat. REUTERS/Peter Henderson
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27: Residents carry their pets and belongings along Mercury Drive as they flee flood water at their homes in Houston, TX on Sunday, Aug 27, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Flood victims move crates with pets at a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Rescue teams in boats, trucks and helicopters scrambled Monday to reach hundreds of Texans marooned on flooded streets in and around the city of Houston before monster storm Harvey returns. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People check in with their pets to a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Rescue teams in boats, trucks and helicopters scrambled Monday to reach hundreds of Texans marooned on flooded streets in and around the city of Houston before monster storm Harvey returns. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Evacuation residence from the Meyerland area are loaded onto a truck on an I-610 overpass during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Evacuation residents from the Meyerland wait on an I-610 overpass for further help during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Evacuees make their way to dry land after leaving their homes that were inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A vet holds a dog at a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Rescue teams in boats, trucks and helicopters scrambled Monday to reach hundreds of Texans marooned on flooded streets in and around the city of Houston before monster storm Harvey returns. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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City officials would not say how many evacuees they expected, or how many the city could hold.

"We are going to have to take folks. We have no choice," said Darian Ward, a spokeswoman for Mayor Turner.

Lakewood Church, the Houston megachurch that holds televised services in a former basketball arena, announced on Tuesday it would take in up to 300 people. The church has been collecting supplies for other centers and is providing on-site health checks.

"When the city needs us, we try to help," said Paul Osteen, the brother of Lakewood Pastor Joel Osteen and an associate church pastor. Pastor Osteen was criticized on social media for offering prayers, but not opening church doors to evacuees. Church spokesman Donald Iloff Jr. called the criticism a "completely false" narrative. (Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga and Ruthy Munoz in Houston; Writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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