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The hurricane, the most powerful to hit Texas in more than 50 years, has killed at least 17 people and displaced tens of thousands more. Lakewood Church said on Facebook Sunday that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and directed displaced people to nearby shelters. On Monday, flood victims posted on Facebook a now-viral video of what appeared to be a locked—and largely dry—Lakewood Church, spurring public accusations that the church’s doors were purposely closed to the public in time of crisis. Some other witnesses posted online that a sign on the door said services were canceled.
Following the criticism, a post on the church’s Twitter page Tuesday read, “Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also receiving supplies such as baby food, baby formula and other shelter needs.” On Wednesday, Osteen, whose church’s capacity is 16,000 people and whose congregation is the largest in the United States, appeared on several news programs to reply to the criticism.
“Our church doors have always been open,” Osteen said on NBC’s Today show. “In fact, we took people in when the water started to recede, which was just a day after the big storm hit. We worked very closely with the city, four miles down the road, the city established its biggest shelter with room for thousands, with beds, with kitchen supplies, with everything they need, security. They didn’t need us as a shelter right then. We coordinate with them all the time. If we needed to be a shelter, we would have certainly been a shelter right when they first asked,” he said. “But once they filled up, never dreaming we’d have this many displaced people, they asked us to become a shelter. And we said, ‘Hey, we would love to be a shelter. That’s what Lakewood is all about.’ But I think this notion that somehow we would turn people away or weren’t here for the city, is about as false as can be.”