Overcrowding prompts early closure of Houston's Galleria Mall

February 17, 2013 4:35:34 AM PST
The Houston Galleria became so overcrowded Saturday that mall officials decided to shut it down almost an hour early out of concern.

The Houston Police Department Strategic Response Group was called out to evacuate everyone as a precaution, and the mall, which typically closes at 9pm on Saturday, was shut down by 8:15pm.

The mall had scheduled events to coincide with the NBA All-Star festivities at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Toyota Center, but so many people showed up that mall officials became concerned.

"Usually when a celebrity would come by, they would have all the police guards shoving, trying to get people out of the way and they would just come by with people surrounding them," mall patron Natasha Pearl said. "It would get really crowded by then there would be shoving. It was just crazy."

Galleria General Manager Greg Noble issued a statement late Saturday stating that the mall, HPD and the Houston Fire Department had been monitoring crowd conditions and when the mall reached its legal capacity, they decided to close it.

"As always, our primary concern is for the safety and well being of our shoppers and mall employees," Noble said. "As always, mall management maintains a close working relationship with the HPD which is particularly beneficial during times of high traffic, such as this weekend."

HPD spokesman Victor Senties said the police department anticipated the larger crowds and had even asked other agencies to help before the All-Star weekend even kicked off, but it wasn't immediately clear whether anyone was expecting the crowds to be as large as they ended up.

"It was very packed. I've never seen the Galleria that packed before -- ever," a mall patron named Ciara said.

Despite the daunting task of getting everyone out of the mall, patrons Eyewitness News spoke with said the process was rather orderly.

However, traffic is being described as a nightmare. The area was heavily congested all day, and exits off the West Loop, such as San Felipe, Richmond and Westheimer, were closed by 2:30pm Saturday.

"Yeah. It was hell over there. And the city should have put in place a better plan for traffic control since they were having the All-Star's stuff on Richmond Avenue. Driving on Richmond Avenue was hell," one Eyewitness News viewer posted on Facebook.

Many others also took to Twitter and Facebook to talk about the massive crowds at the mall.

"This was a real mistake for the Galleria to do these Jordan/All Star events on the skating rink, a lounge upstairs, and some court near the Kona Grill. The mall already gets a lot of traffic and crowds during the weekend, this just escalated it to a whole other level," one Eyewitness News viewer posted on Facebook. "We have larger facilities around town to host these events, like downtown is barren during the weekends, and there's also stadiums that aren't even being used right now. Real shoppers would have already come to the Galleria, there was no need for them to throw events just to help attract crowds."

Galleria officials say they plan to reopen the mall at 11am Sunday, its normal time.

No other details were immediately available.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest details.

If you have photos or videos of the crowds at the mall, email photos or videos to news@abc13.com or upload them on iwitness.abc13.com.
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