By James Draper
After more than a week of storm clean up and all its challenges, Gladewater firefighters have been forced to shift their focus to the heat.
Earlier this week, GFD Chief Mike Simmons was eyeing a boiling forecast and crafting plans to spread the word – don’t take chances outdoors in this weather as heat indices hit 105 to 110 degrees through the weekend.
“It’s going to be extremely hot,” he said.
It’s old news at this point: the weather’s been unforgiving lately.
Following the rough weather mid-month, Gladewater officials have been working on crafting their local disaster declaration tied to June 15-16 while collecting supporting stats about the storm’s aftermath.
“It was 18 homes damaged,” Simmons noted Monday. He doubles as the city’s Emergency Coordinator. “It ranged from severe damage to ‘effective,’ which means there was some kind of damage.
Locally, “No reported injuries or fatalities, which is awesome.”
The only widely-reported death following the June 16 devastation was 35-year-old Appalachia Power Lineman Cory Foster who died June 19 in Marshall after reportedly overheating while he worked to restore power for East Texans.
“In my opinion, they’re just as much a first responder as our firefighters,” Simmons said, pointing to the family’s GoFundMe page (available at tinyurl.com/coryfoster) for those wishing to make a donation.
From numbers provided by SWEPCO, as of 7:16 a.m. Friday, June 16, there were 238,000 customers in the utility’s service area without power. That included 88,000 in Texas and 5,554 in and around Gladewater. Upshur Rural Electric Co-op reported similar catastrophic outages after winds topped 80 miles an hour in some areas.
SWEPCO’s number fell to roughly 3,000 outages as of Wednesday, June 21, then 180 (including 51 in Clarksville City) by late afternoon Friday, June 23.
As of June 26, there were just three known outages in Gladewater that were still being addressed by SWEPCO, Simmons said, following a vast, multi-state response of 3,000-plus linemen.
“They had crews come in to work in our area from Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio, all across Texas, and Kentucky.”
As for how many trees were felled or damaged by the wind in the city limits, it’s still too early to tell.
“I don’t have any way to count that yet,” Simmons said. “There’s a lot of trees and debris down, and the city’s waiting on a plan to dispose of it appropriately.”
That includes essential coordination with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“There’s such large trees and stuff, we’re going to have to burn the debris to clean it up effectively,” he added. “In order for us to get the burn permits we need from TCEQ, we need to be under a disaster declaration,” beyond county and state measures.
The City of Gladewater will continue picking up curbside tree debris through Friday, June 30, for residents inside the city limits.
Meanwhile, Assessment personnel are collecting what data they can, and citizens are encouraged to visit the Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool (iSTAT) to contribute voluntary damage surveys.
Per the iSTAT portal, “The objective of this survey is to help state and local emergency management officials across Texas identify and gain an understanding of damages that have occurred during recent natural disaster activity.”
Find the online assessment via tinyurl.com/istatonline.
“Be sure to report your damage to this site,” Simmons said. “That’s all going in to help us in determining the declaration.”
It was a storm and recovery unlike any in recent memory for Simmons. For one thing, most of the worst damage was contained to powerlines and trees. “There wasn’t a lot of rain so we didn’t get a huge flooding event.”
It’s also not the kind of situation that would draw a surge of outside contributions, he added.
“We didn’t have much come in as far as donations go, and we didn’t really have a need either. We did receive two pallets of water and a pallet of MREs from the state distribution center in Upshur County.”
It was, however, a situation that saw a lot of people stepping up to help others in other ways.
At city hall, officials announced there would be no water service disconnects in the aftermath of the storm and no disconnect fees would be levied. Water bills will be due in full on July 10.
Meanwhile, Lee-Bardwell Public Library opened its doors as much as possible for locals to escape the heat – and boredom, too.
“They got power back on, opened up and helped provide a cool place for people to come in a heat wave,” Simmons said.
According to library director Brandy Winn, once the library was able to get power back June 17, 41 people found respite there. Another 35 followed on the 18th (before power failed again) then 87 turned out for a complimentary lunch June 19. The last busy day saw 66 visit June 20 to cool off with a water slide provided by the facility.
“There is that need to make sure that people are, basically, being taken care of,” Winn said. “That’s all I could think of, was that it was so hot, and I know there are a lot of people who are low-income. They can’t leave. They can’t go to somebody else’s house. They can’t go to a hotel or anything. They just can’t. Why not open (the library) and let people come in and cool themselves off?”
Total recovery won’t be complete for some time, but Simmons emphasized the number of public servants, utility workers and volunteers who are still pitching in.
“Police, fire, public works, city hall and even citizens all came together to help each other.”