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A Week After Storms Knocked Out Power to North Texas, the Cleanup Continues

Hurricane-force winds caused massive power outages in North Texas last Tuesday, and the storms aren't done with us yet.
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An uprooted tree in Merriman Park Estates in East Dallas, near Skillman Street. More than 600,000 Oncor customers are without power following the May 28 storms.

A week after an early-morning storm wiped out electricity for more than 650,000 North Texas customers, Oncor is still working on restoring power across North Texas. Additional storms have followed, complicating an already complicated situation. While at its height Dallas County had more than 356,000 households without power, that number has dwindled to a little more than 1,000, according to the energy provider’s outage map.

For most of Dallas, power was restored by Friday night. At the Erickson house, our first inkling we had power was the email the fancy thermostat sent us to let us know our house was hot and humid. (We didn’t know because we were at a hotel.) By Sunday, I was responding to readers and neighbors who were having problems reporting their outages to Oncor. They were being told by its automated system that their power had been restored. They weren’t getting answers, so I reached out to my contact at Oncor, who was able to reassure most of them that they were scheduled for a crew that afternoon.

In one case, the customer’s weatherhead was damaged, which required an electrician to repair it before power could be restored. A weatherhead is a waterproof cap that covers the point where a power line enters a building or where a line transitions from overhead to underground. Another customer’s gas meter had been damaged during the storm, which meant the power line felled by a nearby tree couldn’t be fixed until Atmos confirmed it was safe to do so.

In an update over the weekend, Oncor said that some customers may not have power if their meter or weatherhead is damaged. “If that has occurred, customers need to contact an electrician to make necessary repairs before Oncor can restore power,” the company said. “In some cases, a permit from the city will also be required.”   

But for most of the city, cleanup is the next order of business. That probably starts in the kitchen, where at least tens of thousands of people have tossed everything perishable in their refrigerators.

While Oncor says it won’t pay to replace spoiled groceries, you may have better luck with your home insurance. (Chances are even better if you lost more than $500 worth of groceries.) The Texas Department of Insurance recommends taking a photo of the food in your refrigerator prior to tossing everything if you don’t have receipts. 

For trees and other debris, the city has suspended the rules on setting out bulk trash early. All residents will be able to put out up to 20 cubic yards of debris for the next 15 days, up from the normal limit of 10 cubic yards. (For comparison’s sake, a standard dump truck holds anywhere from 10 to 16 cubic yards, and a long-bed pickup holds about 2.4 cubic yards.) Last week, Dallas Sanitation Director Clifton Gillespie said it may take “a couple of months” to get the city back to a regular bulk trash pickup schedule.

Oncor may pay for some property damage claims, like, for instance, a power line fell and knocked out your fence. You can file a claim here

Federal funds could also be forthcoming. Gov. Greg Abbott last week announced that he expanded an active state disaster declaration to include Dallas and four other counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will review Abbott’s request. If it finds that any of the four counties meet the threshold, those residents will be eligible to apply for assistance.

The federal Individual Assistance program could reimburse the costs of home repairs, temporary housing, uninsured or underinsured property loss, legal services, disaster-related unemployment assistance, and other expenses. The agency’s website currently says that Dallas County has not been added but encourages affected residents to still apply for aid.

“This means we can’t process your application right now, but you should apply anyway,” it reads. “Your area could be added later. If it is, we’ll process your application right away.”

City and state officials also encourage residents to fill out the state’s Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool, or iSTAT, to help the state accurately report damages to FEMA.

But we may not be done with the dicey weather. 

Between that and the approaching ERCOT conservation request season, it’s also a good idea to have a few things on hand. The Erickson household is the proud owner of a small gas-powered generator, which we bought shortly after Uri. For a less expensive entry point, sporting goods stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shop will have smaller options priced between $300 and $400.

Portable power stations are great options for apartment dwellers. We have this model by Anker on Amazon, but there are several to choose from at local electronics stores like Best Buy. (Note: Our model is no longer sold, but Anker recommends the Anker 521 Power Station or the Anker 555 Power Station.) The company also sells a separate solar panel, which could come in handy when you need to power the station back up.

A power station can run a small fan or space heater, charge electronics, and even run an electric kettle or hot plate. In the event of an outage, our gas-powered generator handles matters like recharging that power station, powering our outdoor movie projector if boredom sets in, and running a swamp cooler. We have an older house with windows that won’t accommodate a window air conditioning unit. Ideally, you’d be able to pop a window unit in and run it off of a generator. But a swamp cooler, which uses water to cool the air, is a reasonable second choice. 

It is also time to spring for a good cooler and reusable ice products for food storage. You won’t be able to keep all your perishables, but you can at least save some of them. Yeti, of course, is the popular choice, but comparable (and cheaper) models do exist

According to the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office, the rest of the week will be hot, and storms could continue to pop up. Let’s hope the only inconvenience is a rained-out cookout, but if not, you can check my colleague Holland Murphy’s primer on how to address just about any disaster that could hit Dallas.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.
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