Joel Osteen’s church helping evacuees after criticism

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HOUSTON — Lakewood Church is defending itself after receiving social media criticism for not opening to residents displaced by flooding.

It all started after Pastor Joel Osteen tweeted out the message "Victoria & I are praying for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please join us as we pray for the safety of our Texas friends & family."

The church, which ABC News said can hold 16,000, responded on Sunday to requests to open by saying it was "inaccessible due to severe flooding." It also provided a list of places where locals could receive aid.

Photos provided by the church showed standing water in hallways and the parking lot. The church already had a flood wall in place following a previous storm.

The post received backlash after photos were posted that some say proved that was not the case. The photos suggested the parking lot was not flooding even though it's below sea level.

See the photos here

The church disputed the backlash.

"We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need," church spokesman and Osteen's father-in-law Donald Iloff said.

"We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives."

Iloff told WREG they were delayed opening for large-scale relief because flooding affected multiple volunteers' homes.

At least several hundred people can be housed on the second floor of the church, Iloff said. Many evacuees arrived Tuesday.

The church, which occupies the former home of the Houston Rockets, is now also being used as a donation center. A long line of people is passing donated supplies into the building.

The area around the church flooded on Monday, Iloff said, and at least three people came to the church for help before they were taken to the George Brown Convention Center.

Houston officials continue to field calls from flood-stranded Texans. Thousands have been rescued since Harvey made landfall on Friday, many are still waiting to picked up.

Four people have died as a result of the catastrophic storm.

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