Good deeds amid storm: Locals give helping hand

Neighbor helps neighbor as Ellis County digs out from historic Arctic outbreak

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
A long queue forms at Pearman Oil & Gas LP Inc. at 101 South U.S. Highway 77 as local residents seek propane cylinder refills. The company stayed open late to service customers in need.

The sun came out on Thursday as Ellis County finally started the process of thawing from this week’s historic Arctic blast.

Schools, governmental offices and and many businesses remained closed for the rest of the week after another round of wintry precipitation passed over North Texas late Tuesday and into Wednesday, adding another 1 to 2 inches of snow and ice to the 4 to 6 inches that were already on the ground.

But amid the chaos, several examples of selfless service emerged as Ellis Countians reached out a gloved helping hand to assist others in need. It’s what Texans do.

After midnight Tuesday morning, one of Waxahachie’s nursing homes had to be completely evacuated due to loss of power and no backup generator. Focused Care of Waxahachie suffered a power loss, and the city of Waxahachie requested handicap-accessible school buses from Waxahachie Independent School District.

WISD director of public relations Jenny Bridges said district transportation director Philip Gurke and another very experienced bus driver immediately went to the bus barn to warm up two buses, and moved all residents safely to a warm location at Baylor Scott & White-Waxahachie.

“This situation is a great example of how blessed we are to have such a great relationship with the city,” Bridges said. “WISD and the city work together regularly to do anything we can to make Waxahachie a great place to live and learn.”

Liquefied propane gas availability was tight, but Pearman Oil & LP Gas Inc. at 101 South Highway 77 stayed open well past its normal 5:30 p.m. closing time to assist customers in filling propane cylinders.

Power was out, but the owners of the business obtained a generator to power the pump and passed out snacks to dozens of customers waiting in the cold.

“Pearman sincerely wanted to ensure no one went without heat. But here's the best thing ... it was after 7:30 p.m. when my husband got served and he stated the line was not getting any shorter,” local resident Trudy Cooke said. “They could easily have closed shop then and went home. Their choice to get a generator, stay open way past regular hours, pass out snacks, find a way to supply warmth to this community … while giving a caring smile places them as an asset to our community in my eyes.”

Pearman finally reported on Facebook that it had run out of propane on Wednesday afternoon, but not after serving numerous citizens in dire need.

“We thank all of our customers for their patience and attitude toward this cold weather situation that we are going through, especially over the past two days,” the company posted on Facebook.

As more and more homes fell dark, the Ellis County Office of Emergency Management swung into action, setting up several warming centers throughout the county.

In Waxahachie, the Avenue Church and the Waxahachie YMCA on North Highway 77 were both opened; and the Midlothian Conference Center at 1 Community Circle was opened for residents of that city. Warming centers also opened in Ennis, Ferris, Ovilla/Red Oak and Italy; and several churches in the county opened doors on their own to help residents stay warm.

70-degree swing

The temperature Tuesday morning at DFW Airport reached minus-2 degrees Fahrenheit, tying for the second-coldest low ever recorded at the National Weather Service’s official reporting station.

Adding to residents’ misery were the continuing electricity blackouts, which by midweek could no longer be characterized as “rolling.” As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, almost 3.5 million Texans were without power as the outages expanded because of high demand and low generation capacity. But by Thursday afternoon, all but a few hundred thousand of those customers had been brought back online.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the governing body that oversees the state’s power grid, said 46,000 megawatts of generating capacity were offline on Wednesday. A shortage of available natural gas played a large part in the shortfall, and Atmos Energy on Tuesday issued a public call for residential customers to conserve energy.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a halt to natural gas exports from the state through Sunday to increase supply. Abbott said the state would investigate ERCOT and its response efforts due to the ongoing outages.

“Today, I spoke with both the lieutenant governor and speaker and both the House and Senate will begin investigations next week,” Abbott said at a Wednesday press conference in Austin. “And that will begin a process where we fully evaluate exactly what was done and maybe not done in both the decision process as well as the action process by ERCOT. Making sure we get to the root of any missteps that took place, what was done and what could be done better.”

Even worse than the blackouts were problems with water supply, with as many as 7 million residents under boil notices, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said Wednesday. Major cities affected included Fort Worth, Arlington and Denton.

Ellis County did not escape the water woes completely. The South Ellis County Water Supply Corporation announced a boil notice on Thursday due to pressure issues caused by the blackouts. Customers west of Interstate 35E served by the FM 308 well were affected.

SECW officials said customers would be notified when the boil notice is lifted.

The Buena Vista-Bethel water district in South Ellis County also indicated it was under a boil notice.

The worst of the water crisis may be yet to come as frozen pipes thaw out, resulting in massive water damage to properties and even more strain on water systems.

As the sun returns and roads begin to clear, local authorities cautioned that the freeze-thaw cycle could create black ice on roadways, making travel even more dangerous.

But by Monday night, forecasted lows will rise above freezing, helping travel return to normal. By Wednesday, highs could be back in the 70s, which is much more common for late February in Ellis County.