It was roughly 45 degrees in Jesse Anguiano’s home Tuesday night as the historically cold winter storm ravaged San Antonio.
Anguiano felt he could survive alone in his Southside home for a couple of days without electricity or running water – he lives alone and, after all, the lifetime Southsider said, “I’ve slept in some rough places before.”
But he was concerned about his elderly neighbors and others who probably didn’t have what they needed. Thousands of homes and apartment units in the Mission Del Lago neighborhood went dark earlier this week.
He started talking to neighbors and networking on the social media website Nextdoor and found that Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) was running some logistics to get supplies and volunteers to the Mission Del Lago Golf Course clubhouse. A diesel generator was donated to the effort by HJD Capital Electric, a local construction company, and then “I blinked and everything was in motion,” said Anguiano, who volunteered at the makeshift center Wednesday night.
“[Southsiders] never back down from a challenge, and we always offer help to somebody in need,” he said. “That’s kind of our creed that we live by.”
It opened around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a spokesman for Viagran’s office said. They didn’t keep an official headcount, but hundreds of people gathered inside to warm up, charge their devices, and re-up their food and water supplies while practicing social distancing. The warming center will be on standby as another blanket of snow was dropped on San Antonio throughout the day on Thursday.
Viagran’s office started getting calls about power outages across the district on Monday, she said. Outages started, for some residents, in 45- or 30-minute intervals as CPS Energy planned blackouts to better distribute power on the grid.
“Then it started going [out every] five minutes, and then to two minutes, and then to zero,” Viagran said.
She couldn’t answer her constituents’ questions about why the power went off or when it would come back on, but she decided she could try to provide some relief.
“We knew that there needed to be a warming center,” she said.
Viagran reached out to a member of the Municipal Golf Association San Antonio board, a nonprofit that manages the City’s golf courses, and they said yes.
The City was able to provide some diesel fuel for the generator, but the residents found some, too, she said. The San Antonio Food Bank donated meals, Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) donated water, and Viagran’s office provided face masks, ensured social distancing, and delivered several pizzas.
“Everybody was all hands on deck, and we got it set up and running,” she said.
Parallel to this work, she was also working with CPS Energy to find a solution. Overnight, the utility restored electricity to tens of thousands of homes across the city.
For those in Mission Del Lago, the lights came on between midnight and 1 a.m. Thursday.
Warming centers have cropped up across the city, most in churches and other places of worship. The largest warming and resource center is downtown at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
“When we communicate and when we know what the problems are, we can get a lot done,” Viagran said. CPS Energy’s outage map still showed fewer than 5,000 customers without power Thursday evening.
As temperatures are expected to rise next week, the next challenge will be restoring water connections and fixing broken pipes. Viagran, too, was dealing with a burst pipe on Thursday. Water utility officials estimate that there will be 100,000 leaks in homes and businesses.
Anguiano, a teacher and coach for Harlandale Independent School District, has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade. One positive that has come out of this crisis was watching the community bond together, he said.
“That was the beauty of it all to see neighbors reaching out to others, seeing if they were in need of anything,” he said. “Especially after everything with COVID and everything going on in the world.”
He thanked the councilwoman for coordinating the center and hopes the community, especially local officials, learns from the challenges it faced this week and remembers to invest in better emergency infrastructure and action plans.
“This is obviously an educational process for the entire community,” he said.