Houston’s first regular city council session of the year was one for the record books. It started on time, ended in under an hour and nearly all of Mayor Annise Parker’s remarks to the media focused on preparation for icy roads, busted pipes and protecting the homeless and elderly through the severe freeze.
“If the roads ice over, we encourage people to stay off the roads. But now is a good time to make sure that you have the gas that you need, you know what your vehicle’s operating condition is. Drive carefully. A lot of our intersections may have icy conditions, so certainly slow as you approach an intersection. I know there are a lot of newcomers to Houston who may know how to drive in ice and snow, but we Houstonians have to be reminded because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Parker was joined by Public Works Director Michael Marcotte, who says they’ve got hundreds of additional employees on call to respond to side effects of the freeze.
“We will have a number of people, both in the roadway maintenance area and in the water customer service area, working some overtime. We do have overtime budgeted, we marshall that overtime for incidents like this. Fortunately, we didn’t have a hurricane or anything like that that expended some of those resources earlier in the year so we’re in good shape from a budget standpoint to do that.”
Fifteen city dump trucks are on standby with spreaders to put sand on overpasses. The Texas Department of Transportation is already spraying area freeways with a chemical ice retardant.
And City Veterans’s Affairs Director Buddy Grantham says teams are canvassing the streets to alert the homeless about the need to find shelter.
“Not only do the Houston Police Department keep a very active eye during this time period, we also have cooperation teams with Star of Hope, SEARCH Homeless Project, Salvation Army, the VA Hospital itself sends some vans out, as well as many other organizations.”
Houston has about 900 regular beds for the homeless, but in severe circumstances there’s room for hundreds more on cots, in chairs and even just sleeping on the floor if necessary. The city has also opened all multi-service centers and libraries for people who need a place to get out of the cold during the day.
Temperatures are forecast to be as much as 30 degrees colder than what is normal for this time of year.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.