Community rallies to help each other during freezing temperatures, power outages
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Winter Storm Uri brought a whole slew of problems to Central Texas beyond the ice and more than a week of below-freezing temperatures.
Although millions of Texans tried to prepare for the storm by stocking up on food and gas and firewood, there was no way to prepare for the rolling power outages that hit the state as a result of the strain on the state’s power grid or the outages that resulted from other issues relating to power lines.
Residents that expected rolling blackouts instead saw themselves without power for hours on end, with some losing power in the early hours of Monday and still not having regained power by Wednesday. The Leader-Press office and the homes of its staff were affected as well by the outages.
As a result of the outages and the extremely cold temperatures, the city of Copperas Cove opened a warming station on Sunday, first at the Civic Center before moving it to the Public Library. The city, in partnership with the Copperas Cove Independent School District, opened a second warming station at Hettie Halstead Elementary School on Tuesday, beginning at 6 p.m.
While the warming station at the library was open, the Leader-Press spoke with Library Director Kevin Marsh and Mayor Bradi Diaz about the efforts to help the community.
Diaz said that the city officials were trying very hard to encourage people to make it to the Warming Stations to get warm while they suffered from the power outages.
“We’ve had some folks come in and just haven’t been in the library at all before, and then some folks who are regulars who we’re pretty worried about,” Marsh said.
These regulars typically come to the library during the day to stay warm in the winter, he added.
“I’m glad we opened this,” Marsh said. “I’m glad to see some of those folks come in.”
Lots of the people at the library warming station jumped into volunteer roles, with some helping Marsh bring in groceries and others running to the stores themselves. As people came in, they brought their own electric kettles and skillets as well as various food items. Some people dropped off food donations and blanket donations for people to use. Chairs were pushed together to form cots for people to get some rest on.
“We’re just going to get through it, you know,” Marsh said. “It’s a terrible storm. It’s a terrible power outage. There’s a lot of chaos going on, but it’s all good chaos, if that makes sense.”
With the library’s many outlets, people had the chance to charge their electronic devices while staying warm. Some teenagers took advantage of the library’s Teen Zone’s Xbox as well, according to Marsh.
“This is pretty much an ideal spot to be if you happen to be caught in a terrible snowstorm in Texas,” Marsh said.
Before the Halstead Elementary Warming Station opened, Diaz said that there was a lot going on behind the scenes to get everything set up and operational.
“We’re doing everything we can to make this better for everyone, and you can’t make it better for a lot of people,” Diaz said. “It is really a bad situation, but the city staff and everyone has just done a phenomenal job to do everything they can to make it better for every citizen that needs help.”
Several of the residents set up at the library on Tuesday had been without power since Monday. George Bauman has lived in Copperas Cove since 1972, and said he’d been at the library since 9 p.m. Monday.
“My power was out, and I’ve got congestive heart failure and kidney disease, and my sister said, call the police or the fire department, whichever one gets there first, and come here,” Bauman said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been helping [Marsh] out, letting him go to grocery stores and stuff, and I’ve just been here watching the table and having people check in and just trying to keep it rolling along.”
Residents in need of transportation were encouraged to call the non-emergency number 254-547-8222 opt. 0 to ask for assistance in getting to the warming station.
Bauman said that in all the years he’s lived in Copperas Cove, he’s never seen weather this bad and this frequent.
Bauman later was able to grab his dog from home and bring him to the library to stay warm. While pets were not encouraged at the warming station, they were not turned away as long as they were in a crate, cage or on a leash.
Bauman said he was pleased with the library being turned into a warming station.
“What they’ve done is a fine thing to let the people come, and the police department and the fire department have been there. They come and get the people,” Bauman said. “It’s a community effort, and I can’t say enough about the firemen and the policemen.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Copperas Cove Police Department began transporting all of the residents from the Public Library Warming Station over to Hettie Halstead Elementary due to busted water pipes at the library.
Residents stuck at home or at the warming stations kept in contact with each other through Facebook, sharing information about where to find firewood, what the hours of operation for local stores and restaurants were and some even offered to provide a hot meal to citizens in need.
Restaurants like El Tapatio, San Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant and Szechuan’s all opened their doors to customers who had ventured out in search of food on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, while other restaurants remained closed due to the weather conditions and power outages.
The Reef Food Truck also stepped up, preparing free meals for first responders, with other locals volunteering to help pay for meals for the fire and public safety workers who continue to work their shifts.
Members of the local VFW Post #8577 prepared hot meals by candlelight using their gas stove and oven for residents at the Library on Tuesday, and Black Meg 43 provided a donation of burgers as well.
The VFW Post, located at 1506 Veterans Ave., has also opened its doors as a warming center and also for residents to get a hot meal, said post Vice Commander Lisa Hunter.
On Wednesday, the families behind two local businesses got together to share chili and cornbread with people, setting up at the HomeBase parking lot.
James Alesick, owner of J2 Deer and Hog Attractant, said his home suffered from the power outages and broken water pipes, but he wanted to do something to give back to the community. Joining with the Colyer and Williams families, who own VJNP Wild Game Processing, the businesses offered homemade beef chili and cornbread, free to anyone who stopped by, starting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Honestly, we thought it was just a good thing to do,” said Joe Colyer. “Chili and corn bread warms the soul!”
Colyer said he and his family have been okay throughout the storm, with their power going off and on, but they have relied on their circle of friends to help out.
Colyer said that his group had prepared a 60-lb pot of chili and three pans of cornbread, and he estimated that they had fed between 100 and 120 people during their time set up at HomeBase.
“The Colyer, Williams and Alesik family are all from Cove, and we just want to give back where we can,” Colyer said. He added that he hoped to be back out with more food on Friday.