Fort Worth Warns Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Generator & Automobile Misuse In Cold

Fort Worth official including Mayor Betsy Price and Oncor officials update teh public on the current Winter Storm status.

Video Transcript

BETSY PRICE: Good afternoon, everybody. It's great to be with you. We're here today. We just want to provide you with an update so we can tell everybody what we know as we deal with the power outages and the residual effects, including any water issues that you're having.

All of this has come about as a result of the storm. And this is truly a storm of a century. Most of us have never seen this. And most of us will never see it again. And I know you're tired of hearing that it's unprecedented, but it is just that, an unprecedented storm.

Fort Worth will get through this. And we will get through it together, by working, all of us, together. Like so many of you, I have been without power at my home for 40 hours now. And it's cold. We're just bundling up. We have our pets with us and bundling up.

And I happen to be at the EOC now. But we are going to get through it. I want to be clear, the city of Fort Worth does not control the power grid. We do not control the energy supplies.

Oncor is here with us today. And I will answer some questions and give you a brief explanation of what's happening at their end. But the things we can control we are working very hard on. The emergency operation center is running 24/7. And we have folks who have been here around the clock for several days now, responding to the needs of our community.

Let me be clear-- there is another storm coming, due to hit late this afternoon or evening. Chief Davis will address the weather. But we are expecting anywhere from two to six inches of snow and sleet.

Today we want to announce some additional warming centers that are open. In addition to Worth Heights Community Center, Diamond Hill Community Center, and Handley Meadowbrook Community Center that we announced earlier-- they are open 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM-- we are opening the North Tri-Ethnic Community Center. And we will be using COVID screening measures, taking temperature. And you will need to wear a mask. Tarrant Area Food Bank has stepped up and is furnishing food for those sites for us.

We will also want to thank One Safe Place for offering their facilities as a warming center also. The Dickinson-Jenkins Loft and Plaza will be open from 7:00 to 7:00. The Hills Church and the Rail Club Live will be open 24/7. Also, we are keeping our convention center open 24/7.

For most of those, if you can't get there, call our main call center number and someone will help you get there. The T, Trinity Metro is working with us on arranging transportation. We've reached out to so many non-profits and businesses and faith communities. And they have opened their doors or furnished us supplies.

So please watch our website and our Facebook pages for addresses, for hours, and to arrange transportation. Our transportation and public works team will continue to work on streets, sanding, prep, and cleanup. TPW continues now as we speak to sand bridges.

Total locations received overnight that needed sanding was 73. And they are in the process of getting to those. They've already completed 107 locations and sanded 36 of the 73 that are in need. I also want to thank Texas Forestry Service and our State Guard. They're delivering meals, blankets, water, and fuel, and helping with assisted living facilities who may need help.

Please, folks, all of us are suffering and sharing in this. Check on your neighbors. If you can get out and about and see about them, check on your neighbors. Spread the word that there are resources out there for those who need them. Call 817-392-1234 or go to the city website or Facebook page.

I know you're frustrated. And I know you're feeling like you want to blame somebody. But now is not the time to blame people. Now is the time for us to come together. But I want to assure you that anger can be better served if you'll help each other and help us as a city get through this.

When this is done, we will demand answers and we will find solutions should this happen again. We will have other storms, but hopefully not of this magnitude. With that said, I'll turn it over to Carrie Dunn from Oncor, who's going to provide an update. Carrie, are you ready?

CARRIE DUNN: Yes, ma'am. Thank you, mayor, and good afternoon, everyone. So I'd like to start by just doing a quick overview of what we've seen since these impacts began late Sunday night to early Monday morning. So beginning late Sunday night, Monday morning, around 1:00 AM, we saw substantial losses in generation, which is a loss of supply of electricity.

Therefore, ERCOT, which oversees the grid, directed Oncor and other utilities across the state to begin rotating outages. Now, as we're beginning these rotating outages, ERCOT directs us how much load we need to drop in order to make sure we're protecting the integrity of the electric grid. When we get that direction, we have emergency plans in place so we know how to spread that out across the service territory and make sure we're protecting the grid.

However, with this case, we had a very unique event of record low temperatures, record generation drop, and a record amount of load that we needed to drop from the system. As a result, Oncor and other utilities were no longer able to keep those outages on a regular rotating basis. And that's why we've seen these extended outages over the past day or so.

So we are aware that these are lasting longer than we or our customers had hoped. But again, it is focused on protecting the integrity of the grid. It's ultimately an issue of supply and demand and there not being enough generation or supply to meet the needs that we're seeing from our customers during these incredibly low temperatures.

So we appreciate our customers. We recognize how incredibly challenging and hard it is to be without power in this cold weather right now. So as soon as that generation increases and we have more supply, we're ready to begin rotating outages back on our regular schedule.

So we're waiting for those conditions to change. And once they do, we'll be doing everything we can to implement that regular schedule, especially in areas where they've been without power for longer periods of time. So we're hoping we can bring some relief to those who have been in their homes right now without power.

In the meantime, though, we are asking our customers to please stay prepared for the possibility of these outages to continue. Please take steps, as the mayor says, to be safe. I know there are resources available in Fort Worth and the surrounding areas. And we do ask that you take advantage of those if you need them.

Check on your neighbors. Check on your loved ones. And if you're experiencing an emergency event, please call 911.

We have also been asked by our customers why am I experiencing an outage while my neighbor across the street is not? So with that, we're kind of looking at two separate events here that are all coming together at one, unfortunately. So you have the winter storm and the weather impacts. And that's having some outage impacts across our territory.

While they haven't been as substantial in DFW, they still are around. And we know what those outages look like. That's the same things we see when we see severe weather.

So in this case, we have ice buildup. We have limbs that are being pulled down much more from their natural state than they normally would. So they're coming in contact with our line. So we have damage as a result of this ongoing winter weather.

We also have with this extreme cold, these not above freezing low temperatures that we haven't seen in the Dallas and Texas area in decades, it's overloading some of our transformers. It's the same as us operating on these hot summer days where we have electric demand and AC is running constantly. It's the same thing with heaters. So we are seeing some stress on our equipment with that. So that's one side of those outages.

The other side, which I know we're all still getting some more information on, is these controlled outages as directed by ERCOT. So when we implement controlled outages, there are areas that we avoid to keep out. Those include areas of hospitals and critical care facilities. So it's possible that you could be along the same line as a hospital or critical care area. And that would mean that your power is on, while your neighbor who is just a few miles down could be attached to separate equipment, and therefore wouldn't have that same coverage as being on that critical facility.

We also have very limited areas across our service territory that are designed as kind of areas of last resort. So if something happens with the generation and that were to drop suddenly, unexpectedly, and a substantial amount, these areas stay on. So that way they can automatically cut off.

There's no man intervention needed. If we get to below these type of emergency conditions, that power will drop automatically in order to protect the integrity of the electric grid. If that didn't take place, we could be looking at the possibility of cascading impacts or even a blackout, which is something that absolutely none of us want. So again, all of this is focused on ensuring the integrity of the electric grid as a whole.

This is an emergency event that the entire state is facing. Oncor and all of our utility partners across the state have a shared goal right now to keep the electric grid secure. So while we recognize, again, this is hard, it's been a tough few days, and it possibly could continue to be tough, we know we have this bad weather coming in. we appreciate our customers. And we ask them to know that we're doing everything we can to make sure we can get the power back up as soon as it's safe to do so.

BETSY PRICE: Thank you, Carrie. I will now turn it over to Chief Jim Davis, our fire chief. Chief?

JIM DAVIS: Thank you, mayor. So the Office of Emergency Management of the Fort Worth Fire Department in the city of Fort Worth has been operational for 24 hours a day for the last several days. They're coordinating with multiple agencies, both city and statewide, to secure the resources needed to continue to respond to the conditions that present themselves related to this storm. As well, they continue to track the incoming weather, of which a winter storm warning is in place through Thursday.

There's a chance of two to six inches of snow. There's a chance of freezing rain and ice, specifically south of the I-20 corridor. There's a real reason that we're asking you to stay inside.

We're continuing to work with community partners. And we're very grateful for them. I'll speak about them in one second.

The Fort Worth Fire Department has responded to approximately 600 calls yesterday in the last 24 hours in conjunction with MedStar in their over 700 calls. We ask folks to use the 911 system when needed. But in non-emergency situations, where you're looking for support and other forms of help, as the mayor said, we're asking you to call the non-emergency lines at 817-392-1234. And we, through this office here, will be coordinating how we get you the assistance that you need.

One thing that I want to share with you is fuel-fired generators and you're using your car to stay warm in your garage, we really need to ask you to refrain from doing that. In the last 24 hours, we've had 66 911 calls reporting carbon monoxide poisoning in our community. These issues are real. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. And it binds with your body's ability to exchange oxygen.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to the flu, with a headache and nausea, in general not feeling well. If you have those conditions, you have to get yourself to fresh air and please call 911 so we can send somebody out. But again, it is imperative that you only use generators to support your home in open, well-ventilated areas and not in the home.

In addition, if you're clearing your sidewalks, you're working outside, we also responded yesterday to multiple cases of hypothermia in the community. We ask that you layer. We asked that you work in brief, small periods, and not be outside in a prolonged period of time. As the freezing conditions continue to develop over the next couple of days, we anticipate that we're going to have more issues with this. And we need the community's support for that.

In closing, I want to make sure that I thank other city departments that have been helping the fire department to try to maintain services to the community and their need. Other organizations, such as the Tarrant County-- Tarrant Area Food Bank, who have been helping to provide meals, the Trinity folks that have been helping with the bus, and specifically Parks and Rec, who's been helping with trying to get the warming centers stood up, this is a community effort. And while I'm very proud of the men and women of the Fort Worth Fire Department and all of the work they're doing, we-- this is a community effort.

We will be here. And we will continue to work 24 hours a day until we get past the effects of this storm. And so with that, mayor, I'm going to turn it back over to Chief Noakes from the Fort Worth Police Department.

NEIL NOAKES: Thank you, Chief Davis, mayor. First, I want to start thanking everyone that's out there doing a job today that has been through all of this. I'm talking about the police officers, the firefighters, the paramedics, and all the other employees with all the other departments within the city of Fort Worth who are serving in this weather. When we're asking everyone else to stay home, they're coming out and doing the job that they have sworn to do. And we appreciate that.

Two things we want to talk about, first the road conditions. The road conditions, because of the work Tex DOT has been doing, that's definitely improved if you're on some of the main highways. But please be cognizant of the fact that the-- especially the elevated areas, bridges and overpasses, they can freeze over in a moment's notice.

Also, a lot of the side streets are still very treacherous. Please make sure you maintain proper distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Make sure your speeds are low. You may think that you're OK to drive at normal speeds, but you will come up on an icy patch before you know it and not have time to react.

Obviously, if at all possible, we ask you to stay home. If you don't have to get out, stay in your home. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Check on your neighbors. But try not to get on the roads.

We've seen a significant increase in calls for service. Just taking yesterday, for example, on Monday, we had a 270% increase based on the calls for service from the prior Monday. We had over 4,700 calls for service yesterday.

One of the increases we've seen has been in calls for service related to power outages. Understand we empathize with you. We understand. I've been without power in my home for over 30 hours now. But unfortunately, we're not able to assist with that. If you do have a power outage, you can contact Oncor at 1-888-313-4747.

Something else I want to address is a lot of concerns a lot of citizens have expressed with our homeless population. Obviously, they're some of the most vulnerable when the weather gets like this. We have had our homeless outreach team and our crisis intervention team out dealing with a lot of the people we're finding in campsites and on the streets, making sure we get them some shelter, whether it's in one of our community centers, a warming center, one of our shelters. And I want to thank all the organizations that have stepped up. A lot of first responders I've seen actually come in on their off time to help out, to bring warm clothing, to bring blankets, and to provide rides to those who need it to a shelter.

Because of some of the increases we've seen in calls for service, there is an increase in 911 wait time. That's why, again, we please ask if you have an issue with your power that you direct those calls to Oncor instead of the Forth Worth PD.

One of the best ways to get through a time like this when you feel helpless and hopeless is by helping someone else. Please check on those vulnerable populations, neighbors that are near you. And know that just by staying home you're helping all of us out and helping us get to the people who absolutely have to have service by not getting out on the roads, because they're very treacherous. And with the weather that's expected to be coming, we expect it to get even worse. Stay home and take care of yourselves.

I'm going to ask Chris Harder now to step up to talk a little bit about his department, the water department.

CHRIS HARDER: Thank you, Chief Noakes. These last two days have been a real challenge for the water utility. We had anticipated with the cold weather and the colder water temperatures to have an increase in the number of main breaks. The number of main breaks that we've experienced over the last couple of days, we had 17 yesterday. We had 14 as of 10 o'clock this morning. Those are manageable numbers. And again, we were prepared for that.

What was somewhat of a shock to us was the number of power outages to our plants and our pump stations. We had four plants in operation. And three of them suffered power outages.

And the power outages in a situation at a plant during really low temperatures, you have the outage for the power outage duration. But afterwards, you also have the time to actually thaw and clear the lines that may have frozen during the power outage period. So that has been a real challenge to us in terms of being able to get water to our customers.

And as you know, we had to issue a boil water notice for the north side of Fort Worth, which also impacts our wholesale customers who draw water from the north side of Fort Worth. We issued a boil water notice yesterday afternoon. And that was amended early this morning to include a larger area.

I've received a lot of calls from the public relating to the boil water notice. And some of the customers have made the comment that it's not just a boil water notice, it's actually some customers are out of water. And we recognize that. And I want to take a bit of time to tell exactly what we're doing to try to get people in water, to get the system pressurized.

Right now, the Eagle Mountain Plant is still down. The power was brought on about midnight last night. And we tried to start the pump stations up, but the valves were frozen. So we are working to unfreeze those-- those valves and are using heaters that we've received from the fire department, police department, property management. Even Eagle Mountain ISD has been volunteered to provide some heaters to de-thaw that station and get the Eagle Mountain Plant operational.

Once the plant is operational, that will increase the pumping to the north side, which along with our downtown plant, the Holly Plant, as well as the Rolling Hills Plant will provide the needed capacity to bring that pressure plane back into service, which will allow us to do the testing needed to be able to lift the boil water notice in accordance to TCUQ requirements. So that's the update from the utility. Mayor?

BETSY PRICE: Thank you, Chris. Thank you all. You can see this is very much a concerted effort from everyone in the city and all our partners. We will continue to provide you updates. Continue to call. If you have a true emergency, call 911. But if you need just assistance that can wait just a little, call 817-392-1234. If you have water issues, you can call water's number also.

And we will get through this, folks. Let's not spend our time blaming each other. Let's help each other. As Chief Noakes said, we all do better when we come together to help each other. So we're here for all of you, the residents of Fort Worth, and we're working hard.

Stay safe out there. And try to stay as warm as you can. And God bless each and every one of you. And God bless Fort Worth.