FORT HOOD, Texas -- Winter weather tightened its grip over the Great Place.
Three separate storms and bone-chilling temperatures clenched all of Central Texas beginning Feb. 11, causing empty store shelves, gas shortages, cars slipping and sliding, and most of all, power outages and other structural issues.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed a proclamation signifying a disaster declaration in response to severe weather in Texas for all 254 counties in the state, Feb. 12. This marked an unprecedented event for all counties to be included.
More than half of the state had lost its power after the initial storm. Also, about one-third remained without power until Feb. 18. Water main breaks occurred around Fort Hood, with the community urged to conserve water. Only mission-essential personnel were to report to work since Friday, and the weather is the reason the Sentinel has been published a day late.
“The unprecedented severe winter weather has created numerous maintenance challenges, especially with broken water pipes across Fort Hood,” Col. Jason Wesbrock, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, said on Wednesday. “Roads remain mostly impassable, preventing many maintenance personnel from getting on the installation and many are working their own challenges with their families and homes without power, water or heat.”
Fort Hood is experiencing major stress on our water supply, according Fort Hood press release Wednesday. Water line breaks from the extreme cold weather have greatly increased, and the resulting flooding has increased our usage from a normal 1-2 million gallons a day to more than 8 MGD yesterday (Tuesday). While there is plenty of water in Belton Lake, the water district can only treat and distribute it so quickly. Power issues and equipment failures have also impacted the district’s ability to produce drinking water.
“(The) priority today is safety, shutting water leaks off, and fixing pipes as able,” Wesbrock added. “Please assist with water conservation as Central Texas is under great pressure to continue to provide water due to water loss from broken water lines.”
Brian Dosa, director of Public Works, said while there are challenges and long hours, he is confident things will go back to normal fairly soon.
“I am incredibly proud of our DPW employees who, along with American Water and Dominion Energy teams, have worked so hard over the past several days to address the hundreds and hundreds of emergency work orders resulting from the unprecedented winter storm,” Dosa said Wednesday evening. “Their dedication and selfless service in serving our Soldiers and families have truly mitigated the effects of this extreme weather event. Thanks for everyone’s patience as we work to first stop the flooding, then repair broken lines, restore heat, and then assess and repair collateral damage.”
Fort Hood DPW personnel are dealing with many top priority maintenance requests, with over 400 calls on Wednesday alone, when in a typical day they answer 40 calls.
“Unfortunately, with the weather projection of continuing cold temperatures and hazardous road conditions, we do not anticipate we can surge our maintenance efforts until maybe Friday (today),” he said. “Please be patient as we address these challenges as we are able.”
Due to unreliability of electricity, heating and water service across Central Texas, Soldiers and their families who live off post in dire need of a place to warm up were able to visit the Community Event Center on Fort Hood. The warming center has been open 24-hours-a-day, and will remain open until further notice. It has an occupancy capacity of 125, due to COVID safety considerations.
Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and their families are able to charge phones and laptops, receive snacks and hot beverages courtesy of the Red Cross and USO, do arts and crafts supplied by Fort Hood Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and watch movies while enjoying a warm environment for a few hours.
“It is not uncommon for USO to support this installation when we are called to,” Isabel Hubbard, USO Fort Hood executive director, said. “When the planning moved toward setting up the warming stations, we immediately jumped into action mode.”
She called it the responsibility for her organization to make sure Soldiers are cared for.
“USO Fort Hood’s mission is to strengthen this military community and when we hurt, we help,” said Hubbard. “It is our intention to always be ready and to assist when our military families need it most.”