Inside The Megachurch Accused Of Closing Its Doors During Harvey

HOUSTON — A spokesman for Houston’s enormous Lakewood Church, which waited days before offering to shelter flood victims, has a message for those who criticized the delay. 

“These are haters,” Donald Iloff Jr., the church chief communications director, told HuffPost on Tuesday. “Haters gonna hate.”

Volunteers take donations at the Lakewood Church in Houston.  (Joseph Rushmore for HuffPost)

The church, stomping ground of celebrity televangelist Joel Osteen, started catching flack on social media Monday for not offering its 606,000-square-foot sanctuary as a refuge for people displaced by Tropical Storm Harvey’s massive flooding.

“I know people sometime yesterday started coming up and shooting pictures and saying, ‘Look, it’s dry, its dry,’” Iloff said. “Well yeah, yesterday it was.”

Water outside the building’s 10-foot floodgate was 9 feet deep before Monday, Iloff said. Church officials feared rising water would overrun the floodgate and surge into the building.

“It was not safe,” Iloff said, adding, “Nobody knew this was going to be a thousand-year storm.”

Donald Iloff Jr., chief communications director of Lakewood Church, outside the church. (Joseph Rushmore for HuffPost)

But Tuesday morning, the church announced it would take in people who needed shelter. By afternoon, several hundred people whose homes were swallowed by the floodwaters had taken refuge inside the sprawling building. 

Among those happy to have a place to go was 38-year-old Jie Zhang.

Zhang was at the shelter with her husband and two children ― an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old baby ― along with her husband’s parents. The whole family was rescued early Tuesday after floodwaters began pouring into their home in Sugar Land, just south of Houston, which they purchased just last month.

Jie Zhang, 38, and her daughter Sheryl, 8, wait to be entered into the shelter at Lakewood Church in Houston.  (Joseph Rushmore for…

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