Contact: Sonja Gross
Phone: (806) 356-3256
Date: Sept. 1, 2017
AMARILLO, TX – In between greeting visitors and helping them to their next destination, staff at the Texas Travel Information Center (TIC) in Amarillo will answer 20 phone calls on a typical summer day. That call volume has grown tremendously in the wake of devastating floods left behind by Hurricane – and then Tropical Storm – Harvey. Since Thursday, Aug. 24, TICs across the state have been working emergency hours – opening earlier and staying open later – answering thousands of calls. There are two 1-800 lines, and two people are designated to answer those calls at all times.
“On Wednesday, our center answered 293 phone calls, and the calls have been in excess of 200 a day since we went into emergency response,” says Daphne Adkins, supervisor of the TIC located on Airport Boulevard at I-40. “All of the calls have been Harvey-related.”
Adkins, who has been with the TIC for the last 10 years, worked the center during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and says Hurricane Harvey has brought a much deeper emotional response.
“The people calling us for help are emotional, they are scared, and they are frustrated. Even so, they have been extremely grateful just to have someone talk them through whatever situation they are experiencing.”
In fact, one call Adkins received was from a lady who was stuck on the roof of her home with two children. Adkins provided her with the emergency response contacts she needed.
“It was heart-wrenching, but to be able to talk with her and give her the information she needed to get help was rewarding,” Adkins says. “She actually called back to let us know she was rescued.”
The type of calls coming into the 1-800 number has shifted throughout the week from those that are trying to get back home, particularly to Victoria, to truckers from Louisiana who need to cross Interstates 10 and 45 as well as the Beltway. There also are relief organizations trying to get supplies to those in need.
As nearly 300 Texas roadways are still experiencing flooding, the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) DriveTexas.org website has been instrumental in helping TIC staff navigate callers around multiple road closures.
“Our team in Austin leading the DriveTexas.org website is doing a remarkable job of keeping us updated on what’s going on,” Adkins says. “In turn, our travel counselors are able to provide guidance and reassurance to the public that depend on Texas’ roadways to get to home, get to work, and to transport commerce. Knowing that we’re making a contribution to the effort is very energizing for my staff. Plus, simply knowing that we’re helping people is extremely rewarding.”
Adkins says that teamwork has also played a huge role in her staff’s morale.
“The amount and types of calls has been exhausting, so we’re working as a team, working the phones in shifts, so it’s not as taxing on us,” she says. “I’m also thankful that we’ve received staffing help daily from TxDOT’s Amarillo District headquarters. It really is one, big TxDOT family – including the support we're giving to and receiving from the other TICs across the state.”
TxDOT has 12 TICs across the state, but due to flooding, the one in Orange County remains evacuated. While that TIC’s staff members are safe, some of their homes are flooded. Not only do they not know when they will be able to return home, they do not know the condition of the TIC because it's not accessible.
“So emotions are high across the board, but we'll get through this by staying strong and helping one another out,” Adkins says.
And helping out is what TxDOT does. Wednesday, the Amarillo District sent a debris cleanup crew to Sugar Land where they began working night shifts last night. Thursday morning, another crew was deployed to Yoakum where they will help repair and replace signs and traffic signals.
As some previously flooded roadways in southeast Texas have reopened, additional ones are now experiencing flood conditions. Travel is not advised in the affected areas due to rapidly changing water levels and unsafe driving conditions.
Motorists who come upon a section of roadway that has water flowing across it should seek an alternate route. It is against Texas law to drive around barricades at flooded roads. And it’s never worth the risk.
If you find yourself in need of shelter, please call 2-1-1.
Remember: Turn around, don't drown.