Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch to those seeking shelter from floodwaters Tuesday after social media critics slammed the televangelist for not offering to house people in need while Harvey swamps the city, the AP reports. Lakewood Church—a 16,000-seat former arena that was the longtime home of the Houston Rockets—announced on Twitter late Tuesday morning that it was receiving people who need shelter. Osteen announced the move himself shortly after, adding in a tweet that he and wife Victoria Osteen "care deeply about our fellow Houstonians." The move followed a day of online criticism from those who claimed the church closed its doors while other places of worship, including several mosques, opened theirs to people who needed help.
The church's decision to open up as a shelter came after a church Facebook post and a since deleted Instagram post Sunday by Lakewood associate pastor John Gray that said flooded highways had made the church inaccessible. A fleet of panel trucks, Mercedes coupes, SUVs, and pickups descended on the church Tuesday afternoon. Out came bags of donations—jackets, strollers, bottled water, pants, dresses, stuffed dolls, sheets, pillows—that volunteers piled in a mountain in the church's lobby. Across the church lobby, volunteers were starting to process people who needed shelter. "Whole neighborhoods under water, I've never seen anything like this. It's almost like life stops," said a member of the church who showed up to volunteer. (Read more Hurricane Harvey stories.)