Largest Recovery Center Ever Ready to Close

After more than six months and thousands of visitors, the largest FEMA disaster recovery center ever is closing its doors tomorrow. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the center just off the South Loop has been a beacon of hope for many Katrina and Rita evacuees trying to rebuild their lives.

"Thousands and thousands of people were coming through here."

FEMA's Charles Powell arrived in Houston last September and remembers when the recovery center was a blur of activity, with more than 80 government agencies set-up to help shell-shocked evacuees get back on their feet again.

"The city actually set-up a bus stop out here to bring people in. They were coming in by the busloads. In fact, it's even larger than this, there's an area back there where the people would come in and they'd give them an orientation and then they'd march them through in groups of up to 60 or 70 people at a time and they'd go straight to housing and start with that and they'd work their way back through all the different agencies."

Gone are the long lines in the parking lot and the day-long waits. The building is more than half empty now, with the remaining chairs, desks and computers to be packed-up and gone before the weekend is over. Before it closes it's doors, the recovery center will have helped more than 188-thousand families.

"These are temporary disaster recovery centers. They're not permanent and as we wind down it just go smaller and smaller and smaller and we're also going to continue to have a presence in here in Texas. Some 400 FEMA employees will still be working here in Texas."

"Good morning, can you have a seat?"

As a FEMA employee helps and man and his wife, only a few others are waiting for assistance, including Carey Neal and his wife Matra, who are getting tax advice from an IRS agent. They're from New Orleans but have decided to settle in Houston.

"In the very beginning it was real important. We used to come here almost every day in the beginning because they had everything in here as far as insurance, FEMA, stuff for taxes. They had about just about every station you would need, even for housing and stuff from the city of Houston, they were in here. We came almost every day in the beginning."

Rita Guidry is from Beaumont and was chased from her home by Hurricane Rita. She says she'll miss the Recovery Center, but plans to stay in Houston.

"Instead of going to the different departments or the different facilities where it's located in Houston, if you didn't know the directions in Houston, it was very helpful because you can do all sorts of resources at this facility in order to get what you needed."

A truck pulls up to load portable restrooms that have been in the parking lot since last year. Signs are coming down this weekend, and the last evacuee will be helped at 1 o'clock tomorrow.

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