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The Great Smoky Mountain Journal

Staff Reports

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2018 11:25 AM

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Pastor Joel Osteen Opens Lakewood Church To Harvey Flooding Evacuees Amid Criticism, Backlash He Closed It At First

Pastor Joel Osteen opened his Lakewood Church in Houston to Harvey flooding evacuees on Tuesday, hours after receiving major backlash for closing the doors to his megachurch.

"Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter," Osteen wrote on Twitter.

But just the day before, the 16,800-seat church posted on Facebook that its doors were closed "due to severe flooding." Several social media posts indicated the church stayed clear of any flooding.

"Sir, these pictures were taken of the campus and surrounding streets, this afternoon. Where's the flooding? Please stop making excuses," Twitter user Charles Clymer wrote.

Lakewood associate pastor John Gray wrote in a since-deleted Instagram remark that that flooded highways made the church inaccessible.

Osteen defended the church and said it was "never" closed and was serving as a relief supply distribution center, according to a statement. He added it would "house people once shelters reached capacity."

More shelters became a dire need by Tuesday afternoon with more than 17,000 people seeking refuge from floodwaters, the American Red Cross said.

The George R. Brown Convention Center exceeded its capacity of 5,000 by Monday night as busloads of evacuees arrived at the shelter. With no cots left, several people laid out towels and strips of cardboard to sleep on.

Harvey wreaked havoc when it came ashore in Texas on Friday. Houston received 49 inches of rain as of Tuesday, setting a U.S. record for rainfall from a tropical system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.