Laura Lyles Reagan
Special to the PRESS
On Monday October 21, 2019 beginning at 12:58am. the National Weather Service of Brownsville, Texas issued the first tornado warning. Then it issued the first severe thunderstorm warning. Multiple residents said that severe weather hit the island at approximately 2:00am and the electricity was lost shortly thereafter. Tim Speece of the National Weather Service of Brownsville states that winds reached 70mph. Speece said, “The straight-line wind damage is indicative of the accelerated outflow of wind during the storm.”
Approximately 11,300 residents woke Monday morning with no electricity. There were poles and debris strewn down Padre Boulevard. South Padre Island Police established roadblocks and closed traffic on Padre Boulevard between the 1800 block and 5600 block. Traffic was permitted north and south on Laguna and Gulf Boulevards.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Cameron County, along with 16 other counties across the state also affected by extreme weather, a disaster declaration, allowing utility companies to use out of state resources to restore power.
The City of South Padre Island, utilizing its email and text service Swift Reach, warned residents, “Power lines are live! We are asking the public to stay off Padre Blvd. All vehicles and pedestrians need to use Laguna and Gulf Blvds.”
The City of South Padre Island held a press conference Monday afternoon affirming that AEP Texas reported 31 knocked down or damaged transmission structures by the storm. By 4:00pm Monday, AEP Texas crews had reduced the number of consumers without power on the island to 4,300.
Repair or replacement of the transmission structures is expected to continue through Friday. AEP may schedule controlled outages in some areas while repairs are made.
Larry Jones, AEP Texas Spokesman stated that a discussion took place within AEP administration and city officials about moving up the project to replace transmission structures which was announced at last week’s AEP Open House.
The project will replace wood structures with steel, but Phase 1 was to initiate in Port Isabel and Phase 2 was to be South Padre Island. Replacing the wood structures with steel will take longer than the immediate crisis prompted by the weather to rapidly restore service.
Restoration of service to residents and businesses in the fastest way possible was the priority and it was determined that it would most quickly be accomplished with wood structures. Phase 1 of the originally planned replacement process in Port Isabel is still slated.
The Salvation Army was on the scene Monday. They provided water and lunches to the island residents in front of the South Padre Island City Hall on Tuesday.
Most island businesses were closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the lack of electricity and building accessibility. But the SPI Birding Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary and Sea Turtle Rescue opened on Tuesday. Some restaurants also opened Tuesday.
Business manager of SOS Services, Andrea Wright stated, “We were obviously closed on Monday until the power was back. People could barely access our store. We need electricity to operate our computers, printers and sort mail. I had to contact each mail carrier directly to tell them we were closed so they wouldn’t drop off packages…I was able to open by 6:00pm Tuesday to let customers get their mail.”
When asked if the closing affected their bottom line, Wright responded, “I would say it definitely affects and continues to affect our bottom line as we provide services to both individuals and to our local businesses and they are still struggling to get back up to speed.”
Michael Sularz, Founder and Owner of D’ Pizza Joint said, “Every penny means a lot to us, especially this time of the year. But we appreciate the effort of our city officials and AEP workers. It’s one of the reasons I love this island, we pull together.”
Larry Jones of AEP Texas said, “We really appreciate the support and patience of city leaders and residents while we work to repair the substation and transmission structures and restore power. With weather events like this, we are really in it together.”