Winter storm causes multiple problems over the weekend

By Robert Morales —

A cold front that passed through the area on Friday brought freezing temperatures, icy roads, power outages and hazardous driving conditions.

Because of wind gusts and cold temperatures hovering in the low 30s, the wind chill made it appear to be much colder. Although the conditions for snow were present, instead, Van Horn and the surrounding area received a constant shower of sleet, causing ice to be formed on the roads.

The power went out at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, and service was not restored until about 6:45 a.m. Later on Sunday, another outage lasted about 20 minutes, and the electricity went out again in the mid-afternoon. Service was not restored for several hours.

“On Nov. 24, portions of our transmission line in the Sierra Blanca/Van Horn area went out at 1:49 a.m. due to a cross-arm that burned, causing the loss of eight spans of wire at Mile Marker 135 off I-10 due to the weather conditions,”said Eduardo Gutiérrez, spokesperson for El Paso Electric. “This affected 2,016 customers, and they were without electricity for three hours and 11 minutes.

Mr. Gutiérrez added that at 10:19 a.m. on Sunday morning, another span of wires went down on feeder FAR 21 at 1905 SW Frontage Rd in Van Horn, which affected 1,244 customers. This outage lasted 44 minutes. These customers were also involved in the previous outage.

Later on Sunday at 12:43 p.m., another wire came down on feeder Far 21 in the Van Horn area which affected 1,244 customers, causing an outage that lasted four hours and 18 minutes.

According to National Weather Service meteorologists, climate conditions were perfect for the heavy ice build-up that was responsible for power lines snapping with the weight of the ice. Precipitation that went from light rainfall to sleet with temperatures below freezing caused the heavy accumulation of ice on roads.

As is usually the case, TxDOT closed Hwy. 54 to prevent northbound motorists from using the highway that becomes treacherous because of the higher elevations going toward the Guadalupe Mountains.

Emergency personnel were kept busy all weekend tending to the numerous accidents on I-10 and Hwy. 90. Emergency Medical Technicians reports that Culberson Hospital staff worked around the clock with patients who had suffered injuries ranging from non-life threatening to needing more acute care.

“This is the worst stituation I've ever seen,” said Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo. “We had to contend with virtually no communication between our staff. The Convention Center was full, there were no motel or hotel rooms available. There was one fatality.”

Mr. Carrillo that his office had not handled this many accidents during his tenure. To make matters worse, the 911 emergency system was not working because of the power outage. Because of the severity of the ice storm, the few sheriff's department staff had to shuffle between shifts to try and keep up with the demand.

The sheriff added that the long-awaited generator has still not been installed, an issue that has caused problems at the jail and with no radio communication.

To put it in perspective, here's a summary of the calls received by the Sheriff's Office:

207 911 emergency calls

47 EMS runs

25 fire department calls

47 persons treated for injuries at Culberson Hospital

1 fatality

More than 600 non-emergency calls

No radio communication during power outage

No 911 capabilities during power outage