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Complaints continue about Oncor's power repairs

As Oncor Electric Delivery workers labored Monday evening to restore power to a relative handful of homes and businesses still without it, there were lingering complaints that more affluent neighborhoods got preferential treatment and that the outage was intolerably long, and power-deprived residents were unable to get any inkling of when Oncor might come to their rescue.

Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina said late Monday afternoon that the company was “hoping for complete restoration” of power before the day ended. As of 9:15 p.m. Monday, power had been restored to everyone who had lost it during last week’s storm, said Catherine Cuellar, an Oncor spokeswoman.

However, tree limbs that were damaged during the storm continue to break and strike power lines, causing small pockets of new outages around the Metroplex. Cuellar said she did not know how many people had new outages Monday but estimated that the entire Fort Worth metro area and 98 percent of the Dallas area had power.

The widespread outage of about 500,000 homes and businesses was caused by a record snowfall that caused tree limbs to crash or sag onto power lines.

Fred Gibson, a salesman who lives in a middle-class neighborhood in central Hurst, said it “just boils my blood” that “the more affluent neighborhoods, the bigger-paying customers ... get power restored first.”

Less affluent neighborhoods “get second-rate service,” said Gibson, who lives in the 47-year-old home that he grew up in.

He said power was out in his neighborhood from about 11 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Sunday, while more upscale areas to the north got electricity much sooner.

While his neighborhood was in the dark, Oncor trucks were “all over north Hurst and Colleyville and Southlake,” Gibson said. He said he witnessed that “because I’m in sales, and I’m all over the place.”

Gibson said his 81-year-old mother, who lives across the street from him, was sick when her home was without power.

Oncor denies claims

Molina said Oncor doesn’t “show preferential treatment to any neighborhood.”

“First, our critical-care customers are going to be restored — hospitals, police and fire stations, and that kind of thing,” she said. “Then we go to restoring power to as many people as possible,” conducting repairs that can benefit the largest number of people without regard for income levels, she said. Finally, the goal is “to restore power line by line” in remaining smaller pockets without electricity, she said.

Many Tarrant County residents toughed it out at home without heat, lights or hot water. Others stayed with relatives or checked into hotels.

M.C. Benavides, a resident of the Wood Creek neighborhood in north Arlington, said she and her husband, Roy, spent one night at home before the cold became unbearable. They checked into a hotel for two nights and boarded their dog, she said.

“There are so many people who couldn’t afford to make that decision, and my heart goes out to them,” she said. Power was restored Sunday to the Benavides’ home, which she said is in an upper-middle-class neighborhood where some residents have faced recent electric bills of $500 or more.

Debilitating cold

Betty Graf, who lives with her husband, Bob, in a Fort Worth neighborhood about four miles northwest of downtown and near River Oaks, said the thermostat in their Tyra Lane home plunged to a bone-chilling 50 degrees by Monday morning before power was restored in the afternoon. They went 82 hours without power., beginning at 4 a.m. Friday. They kept a wood fire going to reduce the misery.

“The cold got to me,” she said. And when calling Oncor, “you couldn’t talk to a human being to get a little bit more information,” she added. “They could have at least speculated . . . as to when the electricity might be back on.”

Molina said Oncor “is going to have to work on” improving communications with customers during a major outage, but added, “in situations like this, it’s just extremely hard for us to be able to tell people a specific time that we can be there.”

The company has launched Facebook and Twitter pages, “where we post constant updates regarding an outage,” she said.

For power-starved residents such as Betty Graf, the misery was offset somewhat by the euphoria they felt when power was restored.

When she arrived home at midafternoon Monday, “the temperature was 62 degrees, and the heater was running,” she said. The ordeal was over.

Staff writer Alex Branch contributed to this report.
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