Freezing Dallas Rages at Officials Over Storm Fiasco
DALLAS – Millions are powerless in the Lone Star State as local and state government officials struggle to respond to the most devastating winter storm in over 100 years.
Perhaps no scene in this town captures the absurdity of the predicament Texans find themselves in better than the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. With a capacity of around 500 people, it is a “thermal center” – the only center that has opened in a city of 1.3 million people. Neither cots nor guaranteed food. Living room only, although less than a dozen people occupied the heat center from 5 p.m. When asked, those in charge at the center weren’t sure how many were expected.
Despite the warming center, possibly due to the pandemic, most have chosen to either stay at home or seek refuge with friends, family, or a hotel.
“We should have rolling outages so people can stay warm, but I think my neighborhood didn’t make the cut so we should all hang out in a heat center all week until they get to see us. Bobby Woods, a 27- year-old Dallas resident who lives near Oaklawn, told The Daily Beast.
Despite considering the heat center, Woods was ultimately able to live in a friend’s apartment, which was even closer to downtown. It is not known how many are in a similar situation.
On Monday, the city of Dallas announced the opening of the thermal center – three days after Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster in all of Texas’ 254 counties. That announcement came a day before severe snowstorms covered the state, triggering a cascade of power plant outages that left millions without heat.
But more than 24 hours after the announcement by Dallas officials, the convention center is still the only government-managed night warming center in the city. And as the reactions of the state and city government stalled, various non-profit organizations, religious organizations and aid groups stepped into the gap that has not yet been adequately filled.
This dynamic can be a mainstay of modern America, when natural disasters often expose the dangers of what is called a small government. But in north Texas, where even more snow is expected this week and some have been without power for nearly 48 hours – and some are dead – the storm is putting the spotlight on weak, decentralized infrastructure.
And it makes people angry.
“You did a terrible job…. If the local grocery store wasn’t open and we had a safe haven to stay warm and get something to eat, we’d be in very dire shape, ”said Tiffany Jackson, another Dallas resident who blogged and had to Move to a hotel for the night of February 16 to stay warm.
On Monday, local electricity company Oncor announced that the expected outage estimate of “15 to 45 minutes has been significantly extended” without giving any clarity as to how long those extensions would last. Many in Dallas have spent more than two full days without electricity or heat, a lethal mix for a state lacking the infrastructure to cope with blizzard conditions.
Dallas city government officials say they are working to move mobile shelters – heated buses – to other areas of the city. They say they are also working to ensure reliable power supplies for other potential warming centers.
“We’re trying to create libraries and [recreation] Centers available, but unlike the [convention center]You are not in the critical infrastructure network. So we need Oncor to make sure the power doesn’t go out after we put people in it, ”Tristan Hallman, spokesman for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, told The Daily Beast.
It is unclear when these additional heating centers will go into operation. And even if they do, many Dallasites will likely have to travel to get to them, making road clearing another priority.
“We’re trucking full time trying to grind intersections, thoroughfares, right of way, overpasses and anything we can,” added Lee Kleinman, a Dallas City Council member.
Just days earlier, one of the deadliest car accidents in modern history happened just over an hour away outside of Ft. Worth, where over 130 vehicles piled up and six people died on snow and ice-covered highways.
It is unclear when the outages will stop. On Tuesday lunchtime, five days after the emergency statement, the Texas Electric Reliability Council, which manages the state’s power grid (ERCOT), announced that it had no idea when the outages would end.
“I’ve learned more from people online [than from the city or state government]”Another resident Katelyn Zuniga told the Daily Beast. Zuniga is a designer in Dallas and has chosen to stay in place for more than 24 hours despite the power failure.
Despite forecasts suggesting catastrophic conditions before the storm, the state government did not begin raising resources for the emergency until Feb. 11, according to a statement emailed by a representative from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
“If this doesn’t wake people up about how the government, especially the state government, treats us, I don’t know what will.”
– Vanessa Wilmore, Founder and Chief Organizer at Feed the People DFW
As of mid-last week, a coalition of mutual aid groups – including Feed the People DFW, Dallas Stops Evictions, and several others – raised funds to house more than two dozen homeless people in motels as shelters across Dallas reached capacity. They continued to raise money and provide food for them as the crisis deepens.
Even before the worst storm, the crisis was felt by the weakest. By February 12, all available homeless shelters in Dallas were full. That same evening, Our Calling, a Dallas nonprofit focused on homelessness, stepped in to operate a homeless emergency center at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
Now these volunteer organizations are stretched thin too.
It could get worse. Temperatures are expected to stay low until the end of the week. More deaths are expected. And residents have to wonder how this could have been avoided.
“If this doesn’t wake people up about how the government, especially the state government, treats us, I don’t know what will,” said Vanessa Wilmore, founder and chief organizer of Feed the People DFW.