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East Texas judges reflect on county preparedness a year after winter storm

WEBXTRA: East Texas judges reflect on county preparedness a year after winter storm
Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 11:01 AM CST
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EAST TEXAS (KLTV/KTRE) - A winter storm like nothing Texas has ever seen, a week of emergencies and uncertainties, and now, a year later, East Texas counties reflect on what went wrong and what’s been done to better prepare in the event of another winter weather emergency.

“It’s just the type of disaster that’s unexpected here in East Texas,” said Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

An unexpected winter storm, bringing life to a halt for many people in East Texas. From electricity.

“What we thought was maybe going to be periods of 24 hours where folks had no electricity became a period of five and six days,” Moran said.

To water.

“Water is so very important. You can get by without electricity a couple of days, but not water,” said Angelina County Judge Don Lymbery.

To transportation.

“The bottom line is most people aren’t used to that weather and it you’re not used to that weather you shouldn’t be driving in it,” said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt.

One week in February of 2021 brought to light issues that East Texas never had to face.

“We were able to do the best that we possibly could with what we had,” said Nacogdoches County Judge Greg Sowell.

And one year later, East Texas counties have reflected on those issues bringing new ideas and new plans to the table, new ways to be more prepared.

“Now we have added generators since then, we have more on hand. We’ve done some additional preparedness. We have additional salt for sidewalks if we need that. We have additional four-by-four vehicles that we purchased this past budget cycle to make sure that each department and office could have enough vehicles to get people where they need to be,” Moran said.

Moran also says that they’ve also put new fuel protocols in place, something that Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt says they will be more prepared to handle next year as well.

“Topping off all of our storage tanks in all of our precincts. That’s something we had done, we didn’t get all of them, but we got most of them. This next time, we will make sure we don’t miss them because a storm comes through here at any length of time and those storage tanks are not topped off, we run out of fuel pretty quick in terms of us being able to maintain the maintenance of the roads,” Stoudt said.

And when it comes to the roads in Angelina County, Judge Don Lymbery says a new position will help with the transportation issues snow and ice storms bring.

“We’ve got a county road engineer now that can works closely with the TXDOT district engineer to make sure that equipment is shared and help them when they need help on clearing certain parts of the county right of ways,” Lymbery said.

Through the road troubles and the lack of water and heat, another lesson learned, the importance of communication.

“We were able to manage these things, but the only way we were able to do it was through everyone working together to do this,” Sowell said.

New relationships formed that Nacogdoches County Judge Greg Sowell says are now invaluable when it comes to emergency response in his county.

“Cooperation with the city and SFA and with all the school districts, our volunteer partners, non-profits, organizations came forward to help when no one else could,” Sowell said.

But no matter the amount of communication, the amount of time, or the amount of preparedness developed in this last year, one theme remains. Nothing is ever certain.

“The response is always going to have to be malleable based on the exact needs at the time,” Moran said.

“We can prepare a lot, but it’s been my experience that you can never prepare for everything. Because things change,” said Sowell.

And when a situation is ever-changing, perhaps only one thing is certain.

“I think we can always learn from every event we have come through here, you can always learn something new you didn’t learn before,” Stoudt said.

“And If you don’t learn from things, if you don’t learn from your mistakes going forward, you’re destined to make the same mistakes,” Lymbery said.

All four judges say that, if another winter weather emergency were to occur in East Texas, their counties would now be better prepared to handle the situation.

Storm of the Century: One Year Later
Storm of the Century: One Year Later(KLTV staff)

KLTV & KTRE are looking back at how East Texans weathered the historic winter storm of 2021 and how life has changed in the year since. Click here for special content on our ‘Storm of the Century: One Year Later’ page.

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