The recent severe weather that brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to the area may have receded, but it has left behind hundreds of harrowing tales of Central Texans struggling to survive without heat, light or water — many for five days, or more.
But the historic storm also left our community with something both heartwarming and humbling — a growing number of accounts of people reaching out in friendship, generosity and concern to help those in need when they were most vulnerable.
Over the course of the frigid, icy week, these Central Texans donated food, delivered supplies of water, offered safe shelter, and in one instance, Killeen-area first responders ushered hundreds of people to safety from a burning hotel, without so much as a single major injury.
Some would say these Good Samaritans were simply doing their job, especially in the case of our local first responders. Others would suggest that these caring community members were just being good neighbors.
But given the difficult, dangerous conditions they endured to offer their assistance, these caring people were not just helpers. They were heroes.
Here are just a few examples that have come to light recently:
Salt Lake City, Utah, native Dominique Owen, a Fort Hood Army spouse, coordinated the delivery of a trailer full of donations that arrived at the Killeen Independent School District warehouse Thursday. Half of the truck was packed with food and hygiene product donations, courtesy of Associated Foods. The company owned by Owens’ father Back in Black Trucking out of Salt Lake City, filled the other half of the truck with pallets of donated water.
Jeff England, a semi-retired trucker hauled the load from Utah to Central Texas on his own time and without charge.
During the week, as Central Texas communities struggled with lack of electricity and potable water, Fort Hood’s commanding general worked to authorize the post’s assistance. Within hours of receiving requests from local civic leaders, the post had soldiers fanning out into several area communities with 400-gallon “water buffalo” trailers and power generators.
Fort Hood’s 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command supplied water to the Bell County Jail, where the water pipes had burst and there was no running water. Within 12 hours of receiving the request, the unit had convoys ready to move out with 1,600 gallons of fresh water.
Soldiers from the 1st Medical Brigade did their part, providing much-needed water to the Belton and Temple Fire Departments for use in hard-hit areas of those communities.
Our local first responders and city staffs worked tirelessly as well.
In his report to the Harker Heights City Council last week, City Manager David Mitchell said that some members of the city’s fire and police departments, public works employees and parks personnel worked 24 hours straight to assist residents.
No doubt, the same commitment held true for public responders in other area cities — helping stranded motorists, responding to emergency calls and conducting welfare checks despite subfreezing temperatures and hazardous travel conditions.
But some of the most gratifying stories involved individuals who reached out to neighbors in need.
A Killeen resident reported that a retired veteran helped an elderly neighbor who’d fallen during the height of the winter storm, possibly saving her life. After finding her on the floor, looking pale, the man called emergency medical services, who responded to the house and transported her to the hospital. She is now back home and recovering.
Another Killeen man worked around the clock for six days to transport dozens of homeless people to area warming shelters, responding to welfare concerns and handing out bottled water to those who needed it.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.
A longtime friend of a local senior helped out his Killeen family, driving from Nolanville each day in frigid temperatures to check on them and bring hot coffee. That simple act meant a lot to the family, and to his elderly friend.
But the friend’s actions went much further. He also took it upon himself to help some of his tenants in dire need — a family with several children who had no food.
Some other children benefited from acts of kindness as well.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Texas assisted nearly two dozen youths who needed warm, safe shelter. On. Feb. 15, more than 20 foster children at a Killeen short-term care facility found themselves without power as the result of the winter storm. By that afternoon, all shelter staff and youth had temporary shelter at the Clubs’ “Teen Center” on Elms Road.
Through these and countless other acts of caring and compassion, Central Texans helped each other through this unprecedented winter storm, perhaps making some enduring friendships along the way.
If there is one thing last week’s weather crisis should teach us, it’s that we’re all in this together — and that it’s up to each of us to make a difference, even if it seems like a small one.
Not all of us lost our power last week. Some of us didn’t lose our water service. Those of us who fall into those fortunate categories should consider ourselves blessed.
And we should ask what more we might have done to help our fellow Central Texans.
It doesn’t matter where our neighbors go to church, who they voted for last November or what kind of car they drive. What does matter is that we make an effort to help them when there is a need, whatever form that help takes.
We can commend ourselves for having weathered this traumatic event. Still, we must acknowledge there will be other local crises that demand that we step up and do our part — maybe not this month or this year, but soon enough.
When that time comes, we should look back at the stories that have been shared about Winter Storm Uri, and how many of our community members made a difference.
They should inspire us to make a difference as well.
After all, our community can always use a few more heroes.