Tens of thousands of East Texans without power amid heat wave after tornado

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency for the area. The storm hit East Texas and Louisiana.

By Sarah AschJune 20, 2023 11:42 am,

Tens of thousands of households and businesses in East Texas are without power amid a heat wave after severe storms hit the region early Friday morning.

A tornado measuring a half-mile wide caused severe damage to homes in Panola County in East Texas before moving to northwest Louisiana. Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for the area.

The tornado and subsequent storms over the weekend caused major damage to power lines and power grid transmission systems. Over 100,000 people were still without power Tuesday morning and restoring it for everyone could take days, leaving some in dangerously hot conditions. 

Marc Nichols, the Upshur County emergency management coordinator, said in his county around 18,000 residents were without power as of Monday evening.

“We’ve got a lot of downed trees, obviously, that have taken out power lines, power poles. Upshur Rural Electric Co-Op had over 350 power poles that were broken. The Southwestern Electric Power Company was the same way,” he said. “SWEPCO had a lot of main transmission lines that were torn up and taken down. A lot of that stuff there they’re literally having to go back in and just totally rebuild it because there was so much damage.”

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Nichols said the goal is for the majority of customers to regain power by tomorrow, but that it may take until the end of the week for full restoration. This is in part because the area is very rural.  

“The areas that were hit are hard to access,” he said. “Upshur Rural has had contract crews that have come in with swamp buggies and different different types of machinery just to try and access some of the areas that they need to get to. Before they can even evaluate how much damage, they have to know what to do to replace it.”

In the meantime, the county is offering cooling stations and other resources to residents who need help. 

“The Gilmore Civic Center is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day right now as a cooling center where people can come in, cool off, get a snack, get a drink, and charge their phones,” Nichols said. “We’ve also got the Big Sandy Community Center that’s opened up during the day. The Ore City high school and the Diana High School have opened their doors during the day to let folks come in, get out of the heat.”

The county is also offering a drive through at the Gilmore Civic Center where folks can stock up on essentials such as water, ice and food, Nichols said. 

Nichols said the county is receiving help from the state and has been tapped as a staging area for state resources that will be distributed to other nearby areas. He encouraged people to check on their neighbors. 

“Make sure that they’re okay,” he said. “If they need something, reach out and let us know. We have resources available. We just don’t have any way of physically contacting all 50,000 residents.”

Nichols said the county has volunteers that can bring people to cooling centers if they need help with transportation.

“We have the means of helping folks. We just need to know they need help,” he said. “If they are in dire need at the moment they can dial 911 or if they just want to get some help and are in an emergency mode, then they can call the sheriff’s office dispatch at 903-843-2541 and that will get them the message that we need to send somebody out to help them.”

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