Area deals with storm fallout
Photos by Beau Foster, Contributing photographer
By Tatiana Ambrosio
The warmer weather this week following last week’s snowfall, record low temperatures and ERCOT-initiated power shut-offs has brought a sense of relief.
Even as that relief filled area residents about making it through the storm, they started assessing damages and repairs they faced and what toll it may take on the area livestock and wildlife.
Debbie McEwen, a resident of Pilot Point, stayed in her house that was built in 1900 as it plunged down into the 20s on Monday and into Tuesday. She kept the pocket doors of her home closed and was able to stay in the back portion of her house.
“I woke up and I was kind of cold, but I was optimistic,” McEwen said. “… That night was when the frost started and the toilet bowl had frozen solid, so I knew I was in a little bit of trouble.”
By the night of the 16th, power came back and a light was on.
“And it was—wonderful,” she said, enthusiastically.
It would take a whole day after the power was restored before her house would thaw and she found out that she is one of the lucky ones who did not have any burst pipes.
Cherylle Searcy, another resident of Pilot Point, experienced busted pipes in her home and she also had to manage with her pool pump being turned off by the power outage.
In the days after, a pool professional came to look at the pool.
“He said considering everything he’s been looking at around the North Texas area … ours actually fared quite well,” Searcy said.
He also told her a lot of people had actual structural damage in the pool itself and had lost all their equipment. The Searcys only needed to replace their filter.
Gov. Greg Abbott asked for a major disaster declaration.
So far President Biden has approved Denton County along with a portion of the other 254 counties for FEMA assistance. Denton County residents can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362. The Texas Division of Emergency Management is encouraging all Texas residents to self-report any damages they have sustained as a result of the winter storm at www.TDEM.texas.gov/warm.
Both reporting systems will not take the place of an insurance claim.
All the school districts in our reporting area sustained damage from burst pipes. However, Aubrey ISD and Pilot Point ISDs were able to repair the damage and return to classes on Monday.
“We worked to winterize our campus prior to the storm, and we checked regularly during the storm to minimize damage,” said Eric Hough, AISD assistant superintendent of business operations. “We will certainly analyze the areas where we did have damage and will look to make any improvements to the buildings in order to prevent future leaks.”
Tioga ISD was forced to meet virtually because their water supply was still on a boil notice Monday and Tuesday. They returned to campuses on Wednesday after the boil order was rescinded.
Area ranchers have faced many challenges since the weather started on the evening of the 14th.
Annette Crooks, a resident of Cross Roads, owns a small horse farm of six head with a foal on the way any day. They never lost power at her farm, but they did choose to shut the water off in the barn before the weather got bad.
They would spend the rest of the week carrying buckets of water to their animals through the snow. Wednesday afternoon, a pipe burst, flooding their house and leaving them without water for three days. They were never on a boil notice, Crooks said, and the water that they had originally stored for the animals saw them through the days without water.
“We feel really lucky that we were there when the pipe burst or our whole house would have been damaged—it was a gusher,” Crooks said.
For Crooks, like so many others in the area, this week has been filled with repairs in the house and in the barn. Though they had a young foal to look after and a pregnant mare, no animals were lost. Crooks had managed to keep them in the barn all week.
Merry Hopper of Aubrey, who runs Hopper Farms, started off her snow-laden week dealing with a fire in her daughter’s house unconnected to the weather.
Hopper said the ranch community really came together, and once one person was aware of weather-related issues, the whole network was informed.
“I had heard that Mustang was having problems and that they were going to shut our water off; … I’ve got 20 head here,” Hopper said. “My horses have to have their water, there’s no way around it. So I took every available bucket and filled them with water and left them in the barn, and I finished my last bucket of water [this Monday].”
Cattle ranchers in the area faced the same challenges. Animals that were not prepared for the extreme drop in temperatures had to make it through several days of frigid temperatures. Usually in colder climates, animals will grow thicker fat layers and thicker coats to withstand cold winters.
It’s also the beginning of calving season.
Brandon Boerner of 4B Farms & Ranches explained that they had quite a few calves born.
“First-calf heifers tend to calf in times of stressful conditions, when you don’t want them to,” he said. “We’re able to save all and keep ’em all in shelter if needed and next to their mothers.”
What time wasn’t spent watching the heifers was spent breaking ice for drinking water.
“We were chipping, chopping and breaking ice three times a day that was up to 6 inches thick,” Boerner said. “This hard work by area ranchers kept the cattle you see in pastures alive and able to maintain adequate body temperature.”
The Isle du Bois Unit of the Ray Roberts Lake State Park was affected with numerous water breaks in restroom buildings, the unit superintendent Mark Stewart said.
It was closed over the weekend and the staff was still repairing damages early this week. When asked about wildlife, Stewart said, “the deer were out in the snow just like they are at other times so it seems there were no major impacts.”
“During the storm we did need to free a few birds and ducks that had gotten stuck in the ice that needed to be freed,” he said.
Texas Parks and Wildlife issued a release on Tuesday that stated: “The prolonged period of subfreezing temperatures, coupled with a limited availability of food resources due to snow and ice has had some impact on wildlife resources; however, given the secretive nature of most wildlife species, the full extent of the impact cannot yet be determined.
“Some of the wildlife species impacted by the storm include exotic, non-native ungulates like axis deer, blackbuck and nilgai antelope that originate in temperate climates, various bat species and multiple bird species.”
They are asking residents to help by “reporting any animal mortality events they observe on their property, ranches or in their neighborhoods through this project on the iNaturalist website,” www.inaturalist.org.
Sarah Cuellar of Mariposa Ranch in Aubrey raises Watusi cattle, a distinctive breed from Africa.
They sometimes get mistaken for longhorns but have little in common with longhorns. These cattle have jaw-dropping horns that are meant for predator defense.
It is these horns that made Cuellar fall in love with the breed. However, it is these horns that made it a dangerous week. Their horns’ honeycomb structure helps dissipate body heat in the African climate and warm Texan climate. “They do not have the body fat that [other cows do],” Cuellar said. “They’re very light-framed, long-legged, so they could run from the predators and they don’t have a thick coat either. … I was very afraid I might lose someone.”
Her herd of 27 has several calves with another one born on Saturday. She was happy to report they had no casualties. Cuellar said they borrowed a barrel from a neighbor and were able to keep the animals watered.
She too sustained broken water pipes in her house but was grateful that her herd and her other animals made it through the week.