Bottled water distributed to residents

A line of cars circles through the parking lot of Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston, 2109 Lockheed St., as residents wait for the distribution of bottled water to begin Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

GALVESTON

Among the many questions in need of answers about last week’s response to the brutal winter conditions is why Texas’ disaster planning didn’t place more resources — including bottled water — nearer to Houston and other coastal Texas communities, county officials said.

In the days after the freeze, the city of Galveston has received a series of deliveries of bottled water from military planes and helicopters that landed at the island’s municipal airport to help support people whose properties were without clean, drinkable water because of freeze-damaged pipes.

But those deliveries obscure an issue with the planning and preparations made before the storm and freezing temperatures that gripped the county: None of the emergency supplies shipped to Galveston County by the Texas Department of Emergency Management were kept in Houston, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.

“TDEM didn’t pre-position water here as they would have during a hurricane,” Henry said Monday. “When we started asking for water, we were told they couldn’t get it to us because there was ice on the roads. Well, I believe that ice is a predictable byproduct of an ice storm. So why was water not pre-positioned down here?”

Galveston County acquired the water through its disaster response contracts with DRC Emergency Services. Through Saturday, most of the bottled water that was distributed in mainland communities was purchased by the county or donated by the American Red Cross, officials said.

The state’s supply of water eventually reached the county through air deliveries to Scholes International Airport in Galveston.

But most of the water delivered to the island airport stayed in Galveston, county officials said. At least through Saturday, most of the water supplies sent to mainland cities was purchased by Galveston County, officials said.

The city of Galveston also purchased some of its own water during the crisis, officials said. Of the water that was distributed over the past week, 23 pallets were acquired by the city and 53 pallets were sent to the city by the Texas Department of Emergency Management, Galveston spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said the city was thankful for the water it received as thousands of residents were without water because freezing conditions caused pipes to rupture across the island and county.

But the city has had some problems with the logistics of receiving water, including delivery times or when planes were rerouted to different parts of the state.

“We just needed to have some kind of schedule about when it would arrive so that we could have volunteers and notify the public when we would be able to make the water distribution,” Brown said.

During a meeting of the Texas Senate Committee on Finance on Tuesday, Nim Kidd, the director of the Texas Department of Emergency Management, told lawmakers he hoped to come up with a better way to stockpile emergency supplies — including water and surgical masks, both of which had been in demand because of different disasters over the past year.

“I do believe we can make this better than it is now,” Kidd said. “I believe we can make this better for the nation.”

In a press conference over the weekend, Kidd admitted the state wasn’t prepared for the demand for supplies that were needed when up to 14 million people, nearly half the state, were without clean or available water.

“We do think there need to be more locations across the state at the local level and state where resources are staged and stocked before the event,” Kidd said.

The Texas Legislature will begin a hearing on the crisis on Thursday, although it’s unclear how much of the initial hearing will focus on the failure that led to the initial power outage and how much will focus state’s disaster response performance.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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