We checked in with Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates yesterday about the city’s reaction to Sunday’s tornadoes. The districts of Gates and Councilman Lee Kleinman took the brunt of the damage in North Dallas. Today, it’s Kleinman’s turn.
Can you update me on recovery efforts? The first thing is we’re not even in recovery mode yet. We’re still in emergency mode. Because the amount of damage to the power grid and the signalization grid is so severe that we have not even been able to normalize those operations yet before we really start recovering. So we’re trying to clear streets so trucks can get in, so they can fix the lights, so they can turn on the power. What’s sad is everybody’s used to this rapid news cycle, kind of the rest of the city seems to have forgotten that there are huge swaths of people that are put out of their homes, of businesses that can’t even get in. We’ve got whole neighborhoods, basically, on lock down. And now it’s starting to rain again. Wednesday and Thursday morning, people were desperately trying to get whatever they could tarped off just to mitigate whatever additional damage would be coming.
Where are all these people staying right now? The best I can tell, either in hotels or with friends. The neighborhoods have really stepped up. Keep in mind, the swath of damage itself, while it’s very long, it’s only two or three blocks wide. So people are moving in with neighbors two or three streets over or their families or going to hotels. I have not felt a lot of pressure or a lot of concerns from people saying, ‘I don’t have anywhere to go.’ That’s fortunate.
We’re having a real problem getting across Royal Lane, so the whole north-south connectivity from basically Inwood to Central Expressway was almost impossible unless you’re on the toll road or Central Expressway, which had its own problems. Just Thursday I think we got Hillcrest opened up north-south, I think Inwood might be opened up north-south, and a couple other feeder streets. So that’s relieving. We have massive traffic problems. People who normally commute through those areas would come to a place, like, on Royal Lane. Royal Lane was closed, so they’d turn right into a neighborhood that was severely damaged. It wasn’t their fault, there was just nowhere to go. That created more problems.
Is the congestion getting better? A little bit. Today is better than yesterday. Yesterday was better than the day before.
How do you compare the challenge you’re facing here versus any other you’ve had in public service? For me, it’s been challenging but workable because my role is just to try to get people connected to services, try to keep people informed, try to be out there representing the city, just to tell people we’re working on it. For our staff, it’s been really hard. I mean, super long hours, lots of demands, everything is urgent.
And it really is urgent. So they’re trying to triage the work out. And some of the decisions they do make, fortunately, they’ve looked to Jennifer and I on some of them. Because we’re out here on the ground and we know these districts. Occasionally we’ll say, ‘No, you probably don’t want to close Central Expressway at 6 o’clock, at rush hour. Please don’t do that.’ (laughs) That was Oncor, they wanted to do that Wednesday.
They ended up pushing it to 10 o’clock. Right. I literally got a text message from a staff person at 4:30. Jennifer and I got a text message at the same time that said, “We’re going to close Central Expressway at 6 o’clock for half an hour.”
Oh my god. Jennifer and I are like, ‘What? Are you crazy?’ So we got on the phone with them right away. We’re like, you are talking about Armageddon 2.0. And of course, where they were going to close it is where the storm damage is, so it was going to dump more traffic back into those neighborhoods. So it didn’t take long but we managed to talk them off the ledge on that one.
On behalf of all citizens of Dallas, thank you. (laughs) When we get the chance to talk about things they’re doing, they’re pretty receptive to it. They’re working on clearing major streets. And we said, ‘here are two or three minor streets that if you actually cleared, it provides relief because they’re interior to the neighborhoods.’ They’ve been good about that.
What’s the most shocking thing you’ve seen? Preston Royal Shopping Center is really devastated, especially on the one side where the Fish City Grill and stuff is. Just broken glass everywhere, wires everywhere, cars everywhere. That intersection, because it’s such a key intersection, had telephone poles laying in both Preston Road and Royal Lane in three or four directions. So you know what that does to the grid. It’s not like one pole is down. That’s why Royal Lane ended up being closed, because between Central and the tollway, there was just pole after pole after pole after pole down on Royal Lane.
The most touching thing I’ve seen is one of my neighbors here, she let me come into her house after her roof had been blown off. Like, here’s their dining room—no roof. Insulation everywhere and stuff everywhere and bricks, everything everywhere. Her back side where she had beautiful glass windows is hanging from nothing. Her kids’ rooms, where the toys are scattered everywhere. That was emotional. This is someone’s home that I know. She’s holding up fine, but it’s hard.
Everybody has been very thankful nobody got hurt. The attitude in Dallas has been that we’re going to put on our big boy pants and we’re going to pick this stuff up and we’re going to make it, we’re going to move on.
What can people do to help? Honestly, if they’re not from the neighborhoods, stay out of the neighborhoods. The traffic is just so bad. Going to the typical people providing resources, Red Cross and the city. My synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, is putting together a whole support initiative for the community. Just continuing to be supportive and not forgetting what happened over here.