Most of Galveston Island and some of the county was without power Monday morning after a massive winter storm sent temperatures well below freezing across Texas, spiking demand for electricity, forcing overwhelmed power plants to shut down and prompting the state’s power regulators to limit electricity supplied to the county.
Municipal officials were attempting to help vulnerable people, and the city of Galveston was trying to convince CenterPoint Energy, which manages the wires and poles to the island, to restore some of the power being curtailed.
“We have individuals that are elderly and disabled and in situations that could be life-threatening,” Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said.
“We need to have the power on,” he said.
The situation for the island is dire, City Manager Brian Maxwell said. He worried damage from the unprecedented freeze could match or exceed damage caused by some hurricanes.
“Without power, the damage here is going to be immeasurable,” Maxwell said.
He worried prolonged power outages would allow water pipes to freeze in island houses and businesses, which could cause the pipes to burst and lead to prolonged repair efforts.
“If we have a lot of damage infrastructure-wise and home-wise, because of COVID there’s no supply,” Maxwell said, referring to longstanding problems getting building materials because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of this the effects of this could last longer than a hurricane,” he said.
Galveston wasn’t alone. Tens of thousands of people across the county, from Bolivar Peninsula to League City, were without power because of statewide problems generating power, officials said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is charged with overseeing the state’s power grid, announced about 2 a.m. Monday it would begin rolling blackouts across the state to reduce demand on floundering power plants.
The blackouts were only supposed to last 15 minutes to 30 minutes, the company said. The outages persisted for hours, however.
CenterPoint Energy, one of the three companies that provides transmission and distribution of power in Galveston County, said about 9:30 a.m. people might be without power for most of the day Monday.
CenterPoint said it was following the council’s directive to conserve power. Transmission companies don’t have the ability to generate power.
But the situation drew frustration from Maxwell, who said the city initially had problems contacting CenterPoint and getting an update on the power loss.
“I don’t understand why the entire island is out,” Maxwell said. “I guess maybe they’re thinking we’re warmer here. But s**t, it’s 21 degrees.”
Power had been restored to some areas of the island just after 11 a.m.
Maxwell said the city got a call from at least one nursing home, and had reached out to another, over worries about how its residents would fare in the cold conditions.
The nursing homes were working to obtain generators to repower their facilities, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The Galveston Fire Department was at both of the facilities to provide aid while their management was working to get the generators, Barnett said.
A CenterPoint official said some prolonged outages were because of the council’s call to limit power distribution and others were caused by possible equipment failures. Because of the widespread nature of the freeze, it was difficult to tell which problem was causing the issues. There were no reports of power lines down on the island.
Brown declared a state of emergency about 11:30 a.m. and said he was asking for the state’s aid in addressing the city’s needs.
The city also was working to get CenterPoint energy to restore power to Galveston, Brown said.
“They are being directed by ERCOT on how they’re handling this, and that’s what we’re trying to get resolved,” Brown said. “We explained to them in very pointed terms that we need to have the power on down here.
The Galveston Fire Department responded to several calls about burst water pipes, Galveston Fire Chief Charles Olsen said.
Some people have called the fire department asking to be taken to a shelter, but there was no shelter for people to be taken to, Olsen said.
Other places were dealing with similar issues.
Sarah Greer Osborne, a spokeswoman for the city of League City, said the city was looking for a place for a warming shelter, but opening one was delayed because of treacherous road conditions.
The precipitation that fell over the county on Sunday night and Monday morning left a sheet of ice on roadways.
Officials everywhere urged people to stay off the roads and, for the most part, people seemed to have complied.
There were no road closures or major wrecks reported because of the freeze. Ice and snow covered the Galveston Causeway, completely obscuring lane lines.