Galveston Mayor Craig Brown was right in saying somebody needs to answer for the fact thousands of Galveston County residents were sentenced to spend at least two full days and nights without power during lethally cold weather.
Thousands lost power about 1 a.m. Monday and hadn’t seen so much as a flicker of electricity by Tuesday evening. There was no sign, much less solid word about relief for many as the sun set Tuesday evening.
The Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday afternoon was attempting to secure a refrigerated truck to store at least 20 bodies. It was unclear whether that was in anticipation of casualties or whether that many people had died during the preceding 36 or so hours.
At least two people had died and the number of the dead gathered Tuesday, after a dark, freezing Monday night, might be as high as 50, Galveston County officials said.
It was unclear Tuesday afternoon whether the deaths were directly because of a massive, lingering power outage occurring while temperatures fell into the high teens.
The obvious stress must have contributed to the deaths, however. At very least, it’s very likely those newly departed spent their last hours of life cold and in the dark.
Meanwhile, ambulance and other emergency services responded to hundreds of calls for everything from welfare checks to hypothermia to slip-and-fall injuries to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to county health officials.
Scores of people, mostly seniors, sought help at the University of Texas Medical Branch emergency room for health crises caused by the cold and lack of electricity.
Business owners already reeling from COVID-19 and the restrictions on commerce imposed to slow its spread were forced to shut down, adding to their financial burden.
This catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid was no mere inconvenience. It’s also not an ideological question.
We can argue on some warm day this spring about whether shaggy tree-huggers pushing green power, or rapacious corporatists banking profits rather than investing in power generation capacity, or something else altogether, was mostly to blame.
The bottom line is, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose sole reason for existence is to ensure the reliable delivery of power to ratepayers, failed spectacularly because of cold weather much of the country deals with as a matter of course every winter all winter long.
Texas ratepayers, taxpayers and residents deserve to know what went wrong, who allowed it to go wrong and how state lawmakers intend to ensure nothing like it happens again.
What’s already clear, based on statements from both the council and delivery companies such as CenterPoint Energy, is the debacle was not caused by failure of local or regional power equipment. People were left in the lethal cold for hours on end because of administrative decisions to shut off the power for what amounted to days.
It apparently was a matter of more demand for electricity than the state’s power generators could provide.
Everybody from the governor on down should be demanding answers about how Texas, regarded by some as the energy capital of the nation, got in such feeble condition.
Lawmakers have a big stake in getting to the root of the problem. No matter how much time they spend telling people what a haven for business Texas presents, this event tells a different story. What the Presidents Day Disaster says loud and clear is that Texas is a fair-weather state with a huge problem.
• Michael A. Smith