Some cleverly named this past week the “Snowpocalypse of 2021” after it left many local residents without water and power days. Much of the area was without electricity for several hours at a time, due to forced “rolling” outages by ERCOT, but no outages were as long as some of AEP’s forced outages. AEP is the electric provider who controlled outages that hit some residents in the cities of Devine, Natalia, and also Uvalde for 3-4 days straight.
The longest forced outages we saw by other electric providers like Medina Electric which serves the rural customers in Medina County, were 30 hours. The longest forced outage in the City of Lytle, which is served by CPS, was only 12 hours. Whereas, the City of Devine and City of Natalia were basically shut off totally from electricity Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with power back online at least somewhat Wednesday afternoon; but some Devine residents were out of power still until late Thursday evening.
City of Devine residents were hit the hardest, with the combination of power and water outages as we have no generator in Devine. Soon after losing power, water in the towers drained, and there was no power to pump more water from the wells into the water towers.
The City of Lytle fared a little better and was able to juggle rolling outages by CPS and keep their well from shutting down by renting a generator. They were also able to keep the HEB up the majority of the time for people to find food, gas, and supplies as well as some local restaurants and businesses.
The 10 to 20 degree weather day after day after day certainly took its toll on all the communities and supplies, in different ways.
Feed stores were about the only store-front businesses open during the widespread shutdown in Devine. They found a way to keep the lights on and help farmers and ranchers and homeowners get the needed feed, hay and even some plumbing supplies thank goodness. WOG and Morales Feed in Devine kept the doors open somehow, fortunately because the snow stayed on the ground for days, and then a second snow came Thursday morning.
“88 hours with no electricity. I have never been so happy for power before. Now for water,” said Arzell Russell, of Devine, this past Friday, February 19. “Thank God for great friends. It was great to see everyone pulling together to help each other. We are still working together as we barely have water.”
“Our power went off about 3 am Monday, February 15. It came on for about 10 min Wed evening, but it didn’t really come back on until Thursday, February 18th around 7:45 pm at night. Our water went out Monday night too,” she added, and water pressure was still quite low as of Friday.
Neighbor Samantha Estrada, of Devine, added, “Out here on Wilkins Way, we wouldn’t have made it as well as we did, without the help of each other. We had Arzell Russell and her family with the pool which they were kind enough to let the neighbors use for flushing our toilets. I had our elderly neighbors across from us who were boiling water so we could all have hot tea and coffee and oatmeal. Another neighbor down the way from me had candles that she made and let us use so we could heat up water inside our house in a pot. Anytime any of us went out somewhere we all came back with something for everyone. I couldn’t have asked to be stranded on a street with a better group of people! We are all glad this is over but most of all we found out who our village is in our times of need!”
Interestingly, the City of Uvalde whose power provider is also AEP (like Devine) also had customers without power as long as 4 days. AEP is one of the few electric providers we’ve heard of in our area that had some customers without power for the full 3-4 day span. Other local electric providers “rolled” outages in our area within at least 30 hours at the most in our area.
According to the Uvalde Leader News, the mayor of Uvalde was able to secure a generator for the water well in Uvalde after outages started. The City of Devine does not have a generator on the city water wells.
In Devine, electricity went out by early Monday morning reported Rob Flores, Devine Public Works, who stated it was around 6 pm Wednesday before electricity became more reliable in some areas, but it was still in sections.
A full 6 days after the first snow on Sunday night, Devine City crews still have many challenges to keep water running in Devine, as the demand exceeds the supply all too fast.
Of the city’s 5 wells, 3 were operational when the snow storm hit. “We went from those 3 wells, down to 1 now,” Flores said Monday.
“We have both of our water towers full this morning, so water is restored to the whole city as of now, though the water pressure may be less. And of course there are many homes who still have busted pipes on their side. We are still under a boil notice, but we sent off samples about 30 minutes ago (Monday morning), and it will take at least 18 hours to get those results back,” Flores said.
“The cold weather blew gauges and really tore up the electronics of our wells. I am not sure if those wells would have run even if we had generators, because so much is damaged electronically, so that’s an issue that I hope we can address. Our wells are basically run by radio or internet,” Flores said.
“All of the sensors on the well are still out, so we are having to monitor the wells and manually turn the wells on and off to keep enough water in the towers,” Flores added. “How long the water in the towers lasts depends on how well we can conserve water in the community.”
“The city staff and crew worked around the clock. I appreciate all their hard work”, said Devine Mayor Cory Thompson. “And we appreciate all those who helped get bottled water to our city. We will look at what we need to do in the future to prepare. Congressman Tony Gonzalez came to Devine to meet with the mayors of our local towns and the county to offer us help and help in obtaining future needs to prepare for something like this or even a cyber attack”.
City of Lytle secures generator, average power outages were 5-6 hours
Forced power outages by CPS, which powers most of Lytle, were intermittent, but overall Lytle fared pretty well. The longest power outage in Lytle lasted around 12 hours, officials reported, and on average, rolling outages lasted 5-6 hours. They also kept the water running after securing a generator on Monday after the first snow.
“The whole team got together and started brainstorming. When CPS said they couldn’t guarantee us power, that’s when we got worried, and knew we wanted to get a generator,” Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said. “We thought about the resources we use for the St. Andrew’s festival. Councilman Cortez said ‘Hey I can call Sal, and see if he has one.’ We had a problem, and we found a solution. We wanted to be very proactive with anything that came in front of us.”
“We were determined to keep our water going, even if it meant babysitting our equipment 24/7, and that’s exactly what we did. Everybody stepped up to the plate, and assumed a role to help in some way. James McGrath from Public Works and his team, citizens, Emergency Management, the Police Dept Richey Priest and his team, local businesses, they all did a heck of a job.”
“When our water pressure started dropping, we realized that the quickest way to get our water system up was to get the leaks stopped. So we put out an ‘all call’ and asked everybody to make adjustments and help us find the leaks. A lot of phone calls and texts went out. Our citizens helped tremendously to find and report leaks, along with Public Works and the PD to secure our water system,” Mayor Gonzalez said.
“We were also in contact with store owners and managers who adjusted business hours accordingly, when we anticipated having low pressure. Give the credit to the citizens, give the credit to the businesses, give credit to three local churches who were doing water refills for anyone in need. Everyone in every community was facing different kinds of challenges. It was a total team effort,” Mayor Gonzalez said.
“Everyone did a great job of not only taking care of our community, but also looking to help surrounding communities as well,” Gonzalez said. “We knew if we could keep restaurants and stores open people from surrounding communities would have a place to get a hot meal, and to buy the things that they needed. The line for propane in our community was 3-4 blocks long. Some restaurants were so busy they ran out of inventory. Local churches opened to give water. True Value and HEB were places for people from the surrounding areas to get things they needed and even warm up a little. Our Best Western was packed. Burger King gave free breakfast Sunday morning, and it was very well received.”
“When we saw what Devine and other areas were going through, we knew that keeping our city and our stores open was an opportunity for us to help,” Mayor Gonzales said.
“We kept our water system going in a modified way the whole time, pressure was lower in some areas than others, but James and Team Lytle got it done. James has been with the City of Lytle Public Works for 15 years so he and his guys knew where the lines and valves were even when everything was covered in snow. Our water wells didn’t get turned back on auto until later in the week until we knew for sure that things were okay.”
“All the days are a blur. Everything was done on a moment’s notice. It was a very choreographed system to keep our water system up and running. James, who is also a veteran, was my battle buddy, and we all froze our butts off!! The situation was not comparable to the movie Apollo 13—but our motto was—Failure was not an option! Public Works, citizens, businesses, Emergency Management, Animal Control, our Police Department, and all City Employees—they all did a heck of a job—and that was our motto!” Mayor Gonzalez added.
“I want to really recognize our PD also which was always there every step of the way monitoring roads, spotting leaks, and managing crowds outside HEB. At one point we had over 200 people standing outside in the cold just waiting for the store to open,” Mayor Gonzalez said. “Kuddos to TX DOT also. They did a great job not only on the interstates, but also in our City. I saw them out there spraying roads at 2-4 in the morning. They did a great job.”
In the midst of the long, cold nights, many acts of kindness and helping hands kept them going. “Alderwoman Reyna and her husband Anthony kept us going with a warm meal. It was a team effort and they came through with great support.”
Local officials faced many challenges, one after another.
“You have to give hope though, in those dark moments you have to be able to give each other hope. That’s what it’s all about, helping people, helping each other. In communities like ours, there is always somebody there standing next to you who is ready to help, and you’ve got to draw strength from that and the Big Guy in the sky. I really feel like we were blessed. Let me tell you, we said a prayer before we flipped the switch to that generator.”
Lytle PD Chief Richey Priest added: “I do not think we had any outages that lasted through the night when it was the coldest…Our leadership is great. Mayor Gonzalez and councilmen and city leaders were out there working on stuff 24/7, keeping people fed, getting a generator among many things. You have to do that in a small community like ours, it takes everybody coming together.”
In his weekly report, he also stated, “There is no way I can mention all those that did such a great job, nor can I remember all the helpful things people did. I am sure proud to work for the City of Lytle and call it home.”
City leaders noted that the City of Lytle has one water well and getting a second well drilled is a priority.
City of Natalia out of power for 3 days, but generator keeps water wells going
Natalia City Administrator Rene Hinojosa said power went out in the early morning hours of Monday after the first snow.
“The entire City of Natalia was without electricity from 3:30 AM Monday til around 6 PM Wednesday,” Hinojosa said.
A generator was able to keep the water going, but still many issues persisted with water.
“We had running water the whole time, except for those with busted pipes. There were plenty of broken pipes, and the water froze anyway even where pipes didn’t break in some places,” Hinojosa said. “We also had a chlorinator injector go out so we were on a water boil notice as well.”
Hinojosa, who lives in Alice, stayed in a local apartment to help see the community through this difficult time.
“The community has pitched in and has helped each other out in so many ways. Our utility crew of three was all working very hard. There were many community members who were on oxygen and others who had generators took them into their homes. It was heartwarming. Neighbors helping neighbors, people delivering food and bottled water to those who needed it most.”
City of LaCoste
The City of LaCoste also fared very well, never losing water to the city. Of course some residents did lose water due to busted pipes. A boil water notice was not needed in this area.
Snow, but no water
Pallets of water were scarce but volunteers and city staff and businesses worked tirelessly to obtain pallet after pallet of water for the citizens of each community and the schools. Conservation and sharing helped tremendously.
When a pallet of water arrived in any location and the word was spread, people were so grateful to find it. Many were picking it up for others in need, the elderly or babies needing water for formula.
A week after the first snowfall and freeze, a truckload of 22 pallets of MREs and water arrived that Medina County has been anticipating all week for the desperately needed eastern side of the county. The City of Devine was given 6 pallets of MREs and 6 pallets of water, Devine ISD was given 1 pallet of water, City of Natalia was given 10 pallets of MREs and water, Natalia ISD 2 pallets of water, and City of Lytle 2 pallets of MREs.
By Kayleen Holder