Brutal winter storm leaves Huntsville defenseless

Telissa Murillo (Courtesy Photo) A group of Huntsville residents prepare to go sledding in the Elkins Lake community.  

It's been nearly two months since a historic winter storm rocked Southeast Texas.

Even now, some residents are still reeling from the damage from burst water pipes and having no running water.

During a work session on Tuesday, the Huntsville City Council discussed the city's response to a storm that caused nearly $80,000 in city infrastructure damage.

“We learned a lot on the heels of the winter storms, and that will set the table for some budget requests that will be forthcoming,” Huntsville City Manager Aron Kulhavy said.

The storms and subsequent power and water outages prompted a round-the-clock response from the city’s emergency management department for over four days. Emergency Management Coordinator Adam Winningham said that the city helped organize some evacuees and opened warming centers, while also tracking the multitude of outages.

“We were fearful that we were going to have to evacuate a few assisted living centers, which would have been a massive undertaking,” Winningham said.

He noted that the high-pressure plane was below normal operating pressure for 36 hours, while the low-pressure plane was below normal an additional 12 hours. The city never turned off the water distribution system, but numerous water breaks in commercial fire suppression systems and residential water lines caused an enormous demand on the water system.

The city’s water department experienced nearly $31,000 in damage from broken valves, pumps and pressure switches. The fire department had over $10,000 in damages, while the parks department had $13,000 in damage.

However, the nearly $80,000 in total combined damages will be covered by insurance, with the city out only a $2,500 deductible.

Kulhavy noted that the city may also be able to recoup lost revenue through FEMA assistance. Most of the lost revenue comes after city officials gave water customers the option to dispute water charges due to pipe breaks from the winter storm.

The deadline for locals to apply for FEMA assistance is also fast approaching on April 20.

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