Is the Texas power grid ready for another winter storm?

Almost a year has passed since the winter storm in February, but the debate over how to prevent another electricity crisis is raging.

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Power was finally restored, so Jeff Hencken hopped in his silver Volvo and started the 48-mile trek to check out his family’s home in far western Fort Worth.

Just two days earlier, record cold temperatures had overwhelmed the state’s power grid and left 70% of Texans – including the Henckens – without heating and electricity. The family had taken refuge with Jeff’s mother-in-law in Richardson.

Back home, he opened the door, walked in and cried.

“Our house is in shambles,” Amy Hencken recalled, saying her husband on FaceTime.

She remembers his laugh: “What are you talking about?”

“It’s fucked up,” he said.

Water had burst from a frozen pipe in an upstairs bathroom, flooding the carpet and seeping through the floor and drywall. The ceiling below had collapsed.

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Amy Hencken shows photos of mold in her family’s home following damage from a burst pipe in February’s winter storm. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

In a video shot by Jeff, water rushes through the house like someone has turned on a shower.

As soon as she hung up the phone with Jeff, Amy said, she called their insurance agent. They filed a complaint the same day.

Their claim was one of 32,630 submitted by Tarrant County residents within 40 days of the storm, according to data from the Texas Department of Insurance. The storm resulted in 456,531 claims statewide with insured losses estimated at $8.2 billion. Almost 82% of these claims were from residential properties.

Residential claims that were closed at the end of March were processed in about 16 days, according to the Department of Insurance. But Henckens’ claim has not yet been closed. Their past 10 months have been marred by a slew of adjusters, three homes, more than $200,000 in damages and countless fights with insurance over what’s covered, Amy said.

Their experience highlights the complexity of the insurance process and reminds that no one gives you a roadmap of how to deal with it.

“I would have preferred my house to be destroyed by a tornado or burnt down because I wouldn’t have had to fight with what was damaged and what wasn’t,” Amy said.

The funny thing about the February storm, said family neighbor Riff Wright, was that unlike fire or tornado damage, you couldn’t see the destruction from the street. Wright’s house also suffered damage. His claim has not yet been closed, he said, although it is nearing completion.

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Riff Wright had just remodeled a new home in the Lost Creek Estates neighborhood when the February winter storm hit. Five lines burst in the house, causing extensive damage. Wright has just moved into the house after months of repair work. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

Lost Creek Estates, an older neighborhood with an Aledo zip code, comes with space between homes not seen in newer developments that have sprung up in the county. It was home to the Lost Creek Golf Club before it closed in 2018. A vacant building, yellow warning signs bearing silhouettes of golf carts, and 72 acres of green space are all that remains.

The damage done to the rest of the neighborhood isn’t entirely clear, though dumpsters parked outside homes usually indicate which ones were damaged, Wright said. He guessed that between 12 and 15 houses were waiting to be repaired.

Amy said her neighbor’s water heater fell through the ceiling. The neighbor, she said, chose to vacate his home and sell it after the renovations were completed.

Five lines broke in Wright’s house. Water rushed through the ceiling, into the newly remodeled kitchen and flooded the first floor.

Wright said he went through at least four experts. The biggest complication has been the different ways contractors and insurance calculate damages and how to pay for them.

He said the insurance gave him $30,000 to cover all his damages. It ended up costing four times that amount, Wright said, and he had to hire a public expert to negotiate.

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Riff Wright received $30,000 by insurance to cover the cost of damage to his home in Lost Creek Estates after Winter Storm Uri hit. The damage ended up costing four times that amount to repair, he said. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

At the Henckens, mold has germinated on the posts. They struggled to determine what was covered and what was not after receiving money from their insurance company.

“No one came and walked through that’s how it’s going to be,” Amy said. “Like it’s the rules, send someone over and explain to someone how it’s going to work, but they don’t do that. They just give you a check.

Ten months after the storm, some power companies argued Texas lawmakers haven’t done enough to prepare for another freeze and that the state network is still vulnerable to power cuts.

At the Hencken house, there is a feeling of dread.

At the end of October, the family returned to their homepractically new from renovations.

The repairs depleted their emergency fund and put the family in debt, Amy said.

“Back to square one,” she said. “Because that’s life, isn’t it?” It’s a vicious game. Hold on as tight as you can.

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The Hencken home sustained more than $200,000 in damage from the winter storm, Amy Hencken said. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

The workers who removed the mold from their home warned Amy that the mold could reappear if the studs and walls got wet again.

New drywall covers the beams supporting the ceiling where mold once grew, and if it grows back no one will be able to see it, Amy said.

Shortly after the family moved in, Amy was look in a downstairs closet when she found a cluster of greenish-brown spots.

It was mold.

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Abby Church covers Tarrant County Government for the Star-Telegram. She graduated in journalism and creative writing from James Madison University, where she served as editor of her award-winning student newspaper, The Breeze. Abby arrives in Texas after telling stories through Virginia and North Carolina. Send news tips by email to [email protected], by phone or text to 817-390-7131 or on Twitter @abbschurch.