Into the eye of the storm: McAllen learns lesson from hail storm

Debris clean up from storm

Hurricane season is almost upon us, yet for some folks around the valley, it already feels like they have been through one this year.

The March 29 hail storm in McAllen caused more than $200 million in damages, causing headaches for home owners in McAllen who have yet to finish repairing their roof tops, but it did provide an opportunity for first responders to prove they have what it takes to act quickly in crisis.

Stopping to help those stranded, it took McAllen streets and drainage manager Vince Romero six hours to report to base during the March 29 storm.

"This storm, the intensity seemed to be a lot greater than what we dealt with in the past with just the combination of the wind, rain, the hail, the water, Romero said.

While the city radio system worked, phones did not.

Public Works Director Carlos Sanchez turned to the public airwaves and social media to round up his crew.

Getting from home to the public works facility was a task in itself, Sanchez said.

With guys like Romero working two days straight, the city had to learn how to work with surrounding communities to get things back to normal.

Usually McAllen is a able to handle what comes our way, so it was a blessing when we were in need other cities could come help us out. And they really stepped up we owe them a favor," Romero said. McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said the storm was like a drill for a much bigger threat.

"It was unlike anything we were used to. It was sudden, it was very severe, it caused a lot of damage in the aftermath, and it paralyzed our city for a couple of hours, Rodriguez said. It's not anything we are used to."

"You had all the ingredients of pretty much a mini hurricane," Insurance Council of Texas spokesperson Mark Hanna said.

Dispatchers proved they could coordinate fire and police efforts in a crisis.

"We handled the volume of three days of calls for service during a two hour period of time," Rodriguez said. While the city was prepared that does not mean they weren't surprised.

"We tend to focus so much on hurricane preparation, which of course we have to do, that we sometimes forget that natural disaster can happen with virtually no warning, McAllen Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Pagan said.

The storm may have only lasted an hour but it damaged nearly 10,000 homes and more than 12,000 vehicles.

In the two weeks following the storm, the city picked up 40,000 cubic yards of debris; that's what it normally handles in 4 months.Hundred of traffic signals across the were knocked out of service by the hail but within just 72 hours Sanchez says they were all back in working order.

"Literally within an hour after the storm dying down they were out doing temporary traffic controls at intersections that they could get to that weren't still inundated with flood waters," Pagan said.

Rodriguez said in some ways it was harder to respond to emergencies in the hail storm than it is during a hurricane.

"Compared to hurricane planning, that's a whole other ball game. We have more time; we have the ability to move our resources at a slower pace so very, very different, Rodriguez said.

Sitting 75 miles inland, McAllen has never even been directly hit by a hurricane, but given its location it TMs only a matter of time.

"It tested what I think through now has basically been theoretical," Rodriguez said.

The storm did not cause any deaths, not even any serious injuries, something Pagan calls a miracle.

While multiple hail storms moved through the valley this spring, just the one on March 29 caused $200 million in damages in the city of McAllen.

Hurricane Dolly caused about $500 million in damages over the entire Valley.