Dallas leaders gave the city good marks for storm response Tuesday but agreed there is room for improvement in the wake of a brutally cold winter storm that caused power and water problems.
A combination of government and charity has helped already and continues to support storm victims with plumbing and home repair problems they said.
Mayor Eric Johnson helped distribute bottled water to residents of West Dallas at the Nash Davis Recreation Center Tuesday in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Many people in the line for water said they had severe pipe problems at home.
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“We had a pipe that broke in the front yard, so we have the water main cut off and we don't have the money to fix it now,” said resident Deborah Moore.
A $2 million emergency home repair program is on the Dallas City Council Agenda Wednesday to supply grants of up to $10,000 per home.
The combination of extreme cold weather with unexpected power failures produced unprecedented complications.
“This was a situation where none of us could say we were prepared. But that's what we have to do in city government. We have to step up and fill gaps,” Johnson said.
Volunteers filled the need at a North Dallas apartment complex Tuesday where the city water had been turned off for a week.
“We spent a lot of days wondering if we were going to be ok, if we were going to survive, if we were going to have enough food and water to drink,” said resident Ricki Mills.
People the Vila Del Solamar Apartments in Dallas’ Vickery Meadows neighborhood filled buckets from a fire hydrant. Mills said most who live at the apartment complex have gathered around the hydrant several times over the last week. She said they’re looking out for each other as a community, but this hasn’t been easy.
“This is just to flush our toilets, take a bath, boil water, wash our dishes. Those types of things,” she said. “You’re not able to take showers. It’s mind-bearing, you know. We’re not able to function the way we normally would. Our mind isn’t in the right place. We feel grubby and gross and we just want to back to normal.”
The apartment complex directed us to its management company Brower Group based in California, where we were able to contact someone over the phone. We asked when residents at the Vila Del Solamar Apartments can expect water to be restored. We were told Brower Group would investigate the situation, but we’re still awaiting an answer.
We also contacted councilwoman Jennifer Gates, whose district includes Vickery Meadow. Gates said Code Compliance will continue visiting apartment complexes to ensure they’re working in good faith to restore water. She said the Vickery Park Branch Library will begin disturbing bottled drinking water Wednesday. The library will also supply larger quantities of water to those who bring their own containers.
Gates released a statement to NBC 5 that reads in part:
My office has been in constant communication with the community advocates for the VIckery neighborhood since the storm arrived and the outages began. I have worked with the non profits to reach the residents to determine the need and then help coordinate efforts to provide resources like water & blankets, food, warming coaches and transportation to KBHCC. In addition code has been visiting complexes since last Thursday to assure they are working in good faith to repair breaks and restore the water supply. The City has delivered water directly to complexes as well as Literacy Achieves & the Northwest CommunityCenter that have both operated as resource hubs this past week. Currently the library is providing water as well to individuals that have their own container.
Volunteer Ben Akrcer said he is part of a group of people who’ve taken it upon themselves to obtain donated supplies and get them to people in need.
“Water is a basic human right. We live in a first-world country and this shouldn't be happening,” he said.
Criticism of the City of Dallas performance includes emergency communication with residents.
League of United Latin American Citizens leader Rene Martinez said other cities and school districts have reverse 911 text and call capabilities that help spread information rapidly to cell phones which are available to most families.
“Communicating with the citizenry, communicating with organizations I think has to improve. But being blindsided, I think the city did the best they could,” Martinez said.
The City of Dallas took steps to provide safe alternatives.
Recreation centers were opened as warming centers but those places suffered power failures, too.
“In hindsight, we should have identified several of these locations and have an agreement with Oncor that they will be provided with power if we get into another crisis like this,” Dallas City Council Member Lee Kleinman said.
Advocates for the homeless raised money for hotel rooms to house homeless people in the cold weather and when the hotel space fell short of the need the Dallas Convention Center opened as a temporary homeless shelter. The advocates swept through the city with support from city officials to get homeless people out of the freezing weather.
Martinez said that was a Dallas success.
“The city did as much as they could for this once-in-a-lifetime storm and thank God we didn’t get the loss of life that we have seen in other parts of the state,” Martinez said.
Old Dallas infrastructure was a problem for fast recovery on the roads as the winter weather and widespread power failures let up.
Dallas has a massive backlog of outdated traffic signals due for replacement.
Kleinman said those signals can’t be easily programmed to return to service.
“Physically our employees had to go out and reset a lot of those signals which just takes a lot of time. This is a problem we’ve had for a long time and we’ve budgeted for improvements,” Kleinman said.
The severe freeze and winter precipitation on aging Dallas streets may contribute to a more severe spring pothole season.
“I am afraid it’s going to be very, very damaging,” Kleinman said.
But unlike some other cities that issued boil water notices because of water supply problems, Dallas Water Utilities provided safe water throughout the freeze event. It was too much water at places where the pipes ruptured and that included many City of Dallas water mains.
“We did have our fair share of breakages. There’s no question we had crews running 24 hours a day to do those kinds of repairs. But fortunately, the water system was stable and safe for drinking throughout this crisis,” Kleinman said.
Kleinman and Johnson both praised city employees who’ve helped people through the crisis, many of them with problems of their own at home.
Johnson said large donations from Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban and several players are part of a growing pot of contributions to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund from the philanthropic community.
“We have a wonderful network in this city of non-profits,” Johnson said. “We’re going to push those funds down to those organizations to get them to the people who need it.”
And Johnson said the good and bad elements of Dallas's performance will be reviewed.
“I’ve been assured by the City Manager that we are going to be looking at every aspect of our response to this, to look at where we can improve. We are under no illusions that we are perfect. We are under no illusions that we can’t get better. We know we can get better. I think we’re doing a great job but we can always do better, so that’s the goal,” Johnson said.
In the meantime, relief efforts continue for residents in need.
For more information on resources for Vickery Meadow residents visit:
Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation www.vmydf.com
North Dallas Shared Ministries https://www.ndsm.org/request-financial-help-solicitar-ayuda-financiera/
For food specifically:
Tasby Middle School: Wednesdays, 4:30 – 6:30 (If student not present must show student’s ID or report card)
Tasby Food Pantry (open to anyone in the community): Fridays, 4 – 4:30
Vickery Meadow Food Pantry: 8448 Walnut Hill, Wednesdays 1 – 4, Thursdays 9 – 12, Saturdays 9 – 12
Elaine Kadane Food Pantry: Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 8787 Greenville Ave, First and third Thursdays of each month from 9:30 – 11:00