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Mother Nature’s Blast Proves Dangerous to Area

Leader Photo by Rodney Williams  The Van Alstyne Community Center is surrounded by caution tape and barricaded off after ice damaged the building's roof.Buy Photo
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams The Van Alstyne Community Center is surrounded by caution tape and barricaded off after ice damaged the building's roof.

The few hearty souls standing outside the Van Alstyne Public Safety Complex on Tuesday night had come to attend a city council meeting but instead went home early. The reason? Ice on the roof of the complex had sunk the drop-down roof four inches and made being inside too hazardous for one’s health.

“We didn’t feel it was safe for people, especially a group of people, to be inside the building,” said VA Fire Chief Landon Smith.

Unfortunately, the complex (and the community center inside it) was not the first building to be bowed by Mother Nature’s icy blast. The city barn, which houses public works equipment and police vehicles, also suffered a roof failure.

“We removed the ice from [the barn’s] roof but the damage is done,” said City Manager Frank Baker. “The integrity of the structure is suspect.”

The ice storm, which began on Dec. 5, made for ice two to three inches thick, according to Police Chief Tim Barnes. That accumulated weight turned out to be more than either building could handle. Staff has contacted the city’s insurance carrier and will wait for an adjuster to inspect the damage. In addition, the city is bringing in a structural engineer to test the integrity of the buildings. There has been no structural failure noted just yet, but as Baker stated, the assessment will be about “mitigating risk” for the future. Will the structures be repaired or replaced? It is too soon to tell.

The economic impact will not be known for some time. For now, city staff has been busy contacting groups which had rented the community center and refunding their money through the end of December. The council meeting that was scheduled for Dec. 10 will be rescheduled.

In addition, at least one homeowner is dealign with significant damage. A carport in the back of a home on N. Dallas Ave. was also brought down from accumulated ice on top of the structure.

The damage stemming from the ice storm has not been limited to Van Alstyne as the Grayson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has declared a disaster in the county. Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum and the OEM have officially declared the disaster which allows for state and federal emergency repair funds. The county reportedly estimated the damage to roads and bridges to be in excess of $5 million in a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Unfortunately, the damage inflicted by the ice storm was not limited to property. Smith said that his department’s emergency responders have been working overtime to deal with the situation on streets.

“We’ve seen an increase in call volume of 633 percent,” said Smith.

The department averages between 22-25 medical calls per week and between three to four fire calls in that same time frame. From Dec. 5 to Dec. 7, the Van Alstyne Fire Department responded to 60 medical calls alone. But the roads that proved so treacherous for commuters was not any better for first responders. In fact, said Smith, ambulances got stuck seven different times while going out on calls, “most of those times with patients.” The driving situation was so dire that the city’s fire trucks drove all weekend and just pulled stranded drivers to safety — including those aforementioned ambulances.

Even worse, the ice has sent one young victim to the hospital. Responders answered a call on Hynds Ranch Rd. at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 11 involving an ATV accident. A Van Alstyne High School student, who was conscious upon VAFD’s arrival, was transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for emergency surgery. He remained in the hospital at press time.