Keeping It On Track

Drivers Monday were greeted with a mixture of hard packed snow and ice that made driving all but impossible on highways and difficult El Campo and other towns.

Residents are still trying to recover from power outages, frigid conditions and gusting winds more than 72 hours after an arctic express plunged into the area.

Power companies report more than 4,000 homes and businesses in West Wharton County lost power in the final moments of Valentine’s Day. Most still remained out with no estimated time for restoration as of presstime Tuesday.

A similar situation was reported in East Wharton County.

With a record single digit low, the lack of power had most people scrunched under blankets as authorities urged all to please stay put as ERCOT warned of rotating blackouts.

“We haven’t had power since Sunday night. My kids are crying because it’s too cold in the house. I hope they turn on our lights soon,” Julia, who identifies herself as a McDonald’s worker, told the Leader-News via Facebook.

Lilly Rangel said, “There is no power at all in our house since Sunday at 11 p.m., what rotating power are you talking about ... how sad that they can’t give us power, people are suffering with this cold weather.”

El Campo Mayor Chris Barbee issued a disaster declaration late Sunday night, urging state assistance, noting that “extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of people and to protect or rehabilitate property.”

But with ice-coated roadways, there was little, at least in the beginning, that could be done.

Public works crews sanded the small bridges inside the city limits, but as the slushy rain turned to ice, highway overpasses quickly turned to sheets of ice.

“(Sunday) night we had quite a few wrecks. There was an 11-car wreck on the 960 bridge and a five-vehicle at the crossroads. U.S. 59 closed,” El Campo Police Chief Gary Williamson said.

“Luckily, though most people heeded the warnings and stayed home,” he added.

For emergency responders, Tuesday night was simply round two as any ice or snow re-froze.

El Campo police officers spent both days responding to welfare calls, but there’s no where to take anyone.

The Red Cross, Wharton County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland said, could not make it into the area Monday. A plan to move people either to Wharton from El Campo or vice versa, fell apart when both cities lost power in the middle of the night. Warming centers were not possible as no location large enough had a generator.

Power outages, Kirkland said, are simply too wide spread, covering virtually the entire county and most of the surrounding area.

“The power outages are killing us,” Kirkland said. “And, we can’t transport people because the roads are too bad. There’s a sheet of ice under that snow.”

As authorities struggled to plan, disaster declarations were also issued by County Judge Philip Spenrath as well as the cities of East Bernard and Wharton.

Children, meanwhile, braved the chill to try to form snowmen from the icy mix or simply frolic in the snow.

Police tried to answer calls, Williamson said, but added response times were significantly longer. “We had three suspicious person calls, but by the time we could get there, they were gone.”

The cold and the ice took away most options.

“We’re not prepared for a winter storm like this,” Kirkland said.

Highways were open for periods, but travel was not advised.

“Every wreck we had was multiple vehicles,” Kirkland said.

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