Famed Houston Pastor Joel Osteen on Wednesday shrugged off a social media storm claiming he initially refused to accept evacuees at his cavernous Lakewood Church, saying the church "never turned anyone away."
"The church has always been open," Osteen told CNN. "We received shelter victims the first day or two."
Osteen said the church did flood initially and thus could not immediately open its doors. He said some church workers were among those being rescued.
He acknowledged that some people initially seeking shelter were sent to the city's convention center. He said the center, four miles away, was set up to receive people, while church leaders needed time to gather volunteers and equipment to make the church livable for evacuees.
"We are helping hundreds of people," Osteen said.
Osteen came under fire after the church posted a notice on social media Sunday that the building was closed because of "severe flooding" following Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall Friday night and has pounded the Houston area with historic rainfall.Local residents quickly posted photos of the neighborhood around the church that showed passable streets. But others posted pictures of water in the church.
By Tuesday, Osteen was tweeting that the church was collecting food, water, diapers and other necessities to distribute to the evacuees and would also house them.
Osteen told CNN he read none of the social media criticisms but acknowledged that his staff told him 'hey, we're getting blasted because of all this." He said the firestorm may have "helped us to step up some things" to prepare for evacuees.
"The first day or two, this building was not accessible," Osteen told CNN. "We would never put people in here until it was safe. And it was not safe, I can tell you."