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Service outages, response efforts persist
Amid widespread power and water service outages from a freezing storm that swept the region after Valentine’s Day, South Texas residents are being advised to boil their water for safety.
As the harsh winter weather continues to pound the region, many are facing another frigid night without power or water.
Services were restored to many areas of Pearsall, Dilley and Cotulla on Wednesday, February 17, although whether electricity service would remain available was unpredictable.
The service restoration included water supply in Cotulla, where city staff installed a fuel-powered pump at one of the municipal wells in order to resume pumping water to residential neighborhoods. Many city residents had been without adequate water pressure for three days while temperatures hovered below freezing.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, residents on the east side of Pearsall were still without water. Many were also without power.
“The city has three of our four water plants operating at full capacity,” Pearsall City Manager Fred Reyes said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “We have made efforts to have AEP provide power to the other two plants that are offline but we have been unsuccessful in our efforts.”
Pearsall’s Colorado, East and Cherry Street plants were online as of Thursday morning; the North Plant remained inoperable Thursday.
Reyes said he anticipates power and water problems to continue “for the next few days.”
City staff, the police department and constables have braved the temperatures and set up a warming shelter at the Pearsall Civic Center on Horizon Drive on the northwest side of town.
“We anticipate the warming center to stay open until Friday afternoon,” Reyes said. “We are exhausting all options to fix the problems. The city also fed first responders yesterday and will again today.”
In La Salle County, the sheriff’s office confirmed Thursday that its deputies were continuing patrols with an eye to assisting residents in distress wherever possible. A food distribution event was held Wednesday afternoon at the Cotulla Volunteer Fire Department Station on North Main Street, where officers gave drinking water and essentials to anyone who needed them. Investigator Homar Olivarez said Thursday that supplies had been limited.
“Our deputies also have a supply of blankets that we have been given by the Encinal Police Department, and they will give them to residents who need them most,” Olivarez said. “Again, supplies are limited. We are doing all we can to provide some relief to those who are in distress.”
Olivarez said officers on patrol have been instructed to check on elderly residents to ensure they are not in distress from cold, lack of power or utilities.
The Sheriff’s office is reiterating a warning that winter weather conditions are expected to worsen and that all area residents should avoid travel unless absolutely necessary, and that all motorists should keep emergency supplies in their vehicles, including warm clothes and flashlights.
The city of Pearsall released an order Thursday morning that all area residents should boil their drinking water. The city’s instruction came after a water utility shutdown around 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Many residents in the area reported loss of power from Monday morning to Wednesday evening after as much as eight inches of snow covered the ground.
Snow reports from Frio and La Salle counties varied from Sunday night onwards, with some areas measuring less than two inches while others recorded more than half a foot of snow depth. Freezing winds created snowdrifts west of Dilley, where some banks of accumulated snow reached more than a foot in depth.
Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna said this week that he is working with 911 Emergency Coordinator Ray Kallio to draft an emergency declaration for the county.
The judge also put out a call for assistance with supplies of essentials for those hardest hit by the combination of freezing temperatures and lack of services.
“We are asking for heaters, blankets and water,” Luna said. “We have also called the San Antonio Food Bank for some water and, if they have some, we will send a road and bridge truck there to get it.”
Winter weather on Sunday and Monday, followed by a repeat weather front on Thursday have been classified by national and regional weather services as a pair of storm systems.
The back-to-back storms have also hampered coronavirus vaccination efforts and created hazardous travel conditions in Frio and La Salle counties.
All patients scheduled to have their coronavirus vaccinations this week at Frio Regional Hospital have already been notified or will receive notification by the end of the week that their appointments have been rescheduled for a week later than originally planned. Hospital staff stated at the end of last week that the delay in administering a second vaccination does not hamper its effectiveness and that patients expecting their second of two shots are still within the acceptable timeframe for their dose.
Frio County Chief Deputy Peter Salinas reported that from Sunday through Tuesday there were 14 crashes in the county.
“Roadways became impassable around the area,” Salinas said. “We are urging motorists to please avoid all unnecessary travel.”
In La Salle County, emergency responders were dispatched to several accidents, three of them within a short span of time on IH-35. In another incident Wednesday, an 18-wheel freight truck traveling north on the interstate at Gardendale veered across the highway’s center median and came to rest beside the southbound lanes and the west-side access road.
Local government offices have been closed intermittently as a result of the power outages.
The Frio County judge said this week that he has opted to keep all county offices closed but said county crews continue to brave the extreme cold temperatures and are providing water and fuel to emergency responders.
“Both the city of Dilley and Pearsall police departments needed fuel, so we are letting them get some at the road and bridge yard,” Luna said. “We also have provided the hospital with a tanker of water because they did not have water.”
The La Salle County Courthouse was closed for several days during the storm, largely on account of the loss of electricity and water, and Cotulla City Hall remained closed Thursday.
In crime-related news, incidents in Cotulla took place during the nighttime hours that affected two local businesses. An attempted break-in at a cell phone retail store on North Main Street late Tuesday may have been carried out by individuals taking advantage of the darkness during a power outage and a lack of downtown traffic, according to the sheriff’s office. Also this week, a pellet-gun shot was fired at the doors of the Ace Hardware store on Front Street in Cotulla.
“There have been crimes of opportunity,” Investigator Olivarez said Thursday. “Our officers are on the lookout for people taking advantage of the ongoing severe conditions.”