Despite local preparations going into the weekend’s predictions of winter mix of snow and ice, Palestine and Anderson County residents had no idea the harsh realities they would endure throughout the week of Sunday, Feb. 14 through Friday, Feb. 19.
Prior to the storm, law enforcement officers made efforts to get essentials to those in need.
“We started by distributing coats and blankets that were collected by Council member Dana Goolsby ahead of the storm,” Palestine Chief of Police Mark Harcrow said. “As the storm moved in, our dispatch center was flooded with calls of all types. Many were stranded motorists. We’ve spent a lot of time helping get those stranded drivers out of ditches and off the roads.”
Frozen roads and problems with no electricity or water have also been a problem in the county.
“We had lots of calls for welfare checks and transportation from their home to friends or family who had power and resources,” Sheriff Rudy Flores said. “We’ve delivered water to those who needed it or asked for it, but thankfully no other major calls.”
Harcrow and Flores reported there had been no weather related deaths reported as of Friday.
Hope Station, a non-profit Christian Transitional Housing Ministry at 919 S. Magnolia St., opened its doors for those seeking to get away with the cold,
Many travelers were stranded in local hotels with limited resources, however, local residents and business owners did their best to help make them comfortable, providing food and meals when they could.
Power outages affect area
Many were plagued by lengthy power outages Sunday through Thursday. Prior to the storm, residents were notified by ONCOR that there would be rolling blackouts, however, there was no explanation of when they would begin and how long they would last.
By Wednesday, Feb. 17, the city of Palestine and Anderson County closed their offices for the remainder of the week.
According to Mayor Steve Presley, all city business will resume once weather conditions are safe, presumably next week.
County Judge Robert Johnston reported Wednesday that all county offices and courts will be closed until Monday, Feb. 22.
The rolling blackouts began Sunday and were stopped sometime between Wednesday and Thursday, however, with pressure on the grid, they may be reinstated at any point.
Residents noticed quickly that the rolling blackouts were more like complete blackouts, with short 15 and 30 minute bouts of access to electricity after hours in the dark and cold.
“What can you actually do with 15 minutes of power? You can’t cook a meal or really charge anything up. You can’t warm your home,” Presley said.
“It was all very poorly planned. Had they given people two hours of electricity, people would have been more comfortable. We could have taken care of our needs better, showered, cooked meals, heated our homes, charged our devices.”
According to Presley, ONCOR was not notified of when ERCOT was turning electricity on, and could not identify if the outages were from the blackouts or actual storm damage which created a breakdown in response times to those in actual need of electrical crew assistance.
Dade Phelan, Speaker of the House of Representatives (R-Beaumont) has requested that the House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees hold a joint hearing to review factors that led to megawatts of electric generation being dropped off the ERCOT system and the subsequent statewide blackouts that affected millions of Texans across the state.
“Throughout our district and the entire state, people are beyond frustrated and rightly so,” said Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine).
Harris said the first investigative hearing is set for next Thursday, Feb. 25 in the Texas House.
Water issues continue
The storm not only kept residents in the cold and dark, it also wreaked havoc on Palestine water system.
Initially, officials thought the problem was two fold, the gauges that show how much water is stored in the city tanks froze up, making it seem there was more water available than there actually was, and the feeder lines for the chemicals that treat the incoming water, stored inside the treatment plant, also froze.
Once the lines thawed, and the plant was operational, city water crews realized there was a power outage to the system that signals the river to send water to Palestine.
Crews were able to restore emergency power until ONCOR could get the power fully restored.
By Friday, the water plants were fully operational, however pressure remains low. The city is asking everyone to keep an eye out for water leaks.
“We are still having trouble with our equipment reporting our tank levels, but we are working steadily to get it fixed,” Presley said. “At this point, everyone in Palestine should be getting some water, even without full water pressure.”
He said it has been all hands on deck, with city crews, employees and our police officers out looking for leaks. Anyone who sees a leak, or suspicious pooling water, or is without water is asked to call 903-731-8415 and report it immediately.
Until this situation is completely alleviated, citizens will have to boil water for drinking water. Presley suggested melting snow for flushing toilets.
Presley said the city had received a couple of pallets of water they delivered to local nursing homes and assisted living units and was working to find bottled water for the community, however, water supply problems are a statewide issue and they were coming up shorthanded.
The city is asking for everyone to please keep your faucets closed during the day so that there is enough pressure to push water through the city.
During the night, when the temperatures drop to freezing again, you can turn your faucets to a trickle to keep your pipes from freezing.
Presley and city officials thanked residents for their patience and understanding and assured them crews are working hard to make sure everyone has water as soon as possible.
Schools, businesses slowly recover
By Friday almost all gas stations in Palestine were sold out of both gas and diesel, with the expectation that fuel transportation trucks would arrive by Saturday.
“There is plenty of fuel,” said Kim Cole, owner of Kim’s Convenient stores. “Transportation is the issue, and that will be resolved tomorrow.”
A limited amount of stores and restaurants opened Wednesday and the amount remained limited on Friday due to continuous hazardous road conditions, outages and lack of water pressure.
While many of our local schools initially prepared for at home learning online, and a possible return to school by Thursday, it was clear early on, due to the rolling blackouts and outages that all school programs would be put on hold.
Classes for the remainder of the week were mostly canceled by Wednesday afternoon due to outages, hazardous road conditions and lack of water services throughout the county.