KRystal Foreman’s roof began to crack and sink Tuesday as inches of water, presumably from a burst pipe, cascaded down its walls and covered its floor. When Foreman’s home flooded, the heater broke, causing the temperature inside to drop to match the freezing conditions outside.
Foreman called his complex’s emergency maintenance line five, six, maybe seven times, but no one answered. So she and her one-year-old son waited four hours and she weighed the risks of icy roads, a deadly virus, and her devastated home. “Do I want to risk exposing ourselves to Covid, or do I just want to wait for the ceiling to collapse?” she said.
Foreman is one of millions of Texans facing a power outage in the middle of a severe winter storm. Cold temperatures and snow have covered most of the central part of the country this week, claiming nearly two dozen lives, but Texas has suffered some of the worst power failures due to its poorly managed state grid.
Families in cities like Austin and Houston have been enduring continuous blackouts and chaotic conditions. Lines surround grocery stores that are quickly running out of food. Water pipes burst in the cold, leaving people without water to drink or cook. Some sleep in their cars or, like Foreman, try to find temporary homes with electricity.
Foreman said he had tried calling and searching online for hotels in Arlington or the surrounding areas, but they were all booked. He finally found an empty apartment with electricity where his family could stay, thanks to the help of a Twitter user. “I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.
Some Texans are also moving in with neighbors or friends who still have electricity, a situation many avoided during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sara Rodríguez, who lives in Houston, has three children under the age of eight. Now, she is taking in the family of her friend, who had her pipes burst in three places in her now uninhabitable home. Six children and four adults now share the only two bathrooms in the house. A tub cannot be used because it stores the only water that families have.
“We are all here in my house. We try to do what we can. Luckily we still have gasoline, but we don’t have power. Although we are in a pandemic, we are forced to be together. There is no option, ”he said.
Houston issued a “boil water” warning to its residents amid concerns the water could be contaminated. But Rodríguez said that didn’t apply to her. After your own water pipe burst, you don’t have running water anyway.
Jasmine Walia lives in College Station, a city an hour northwest of Houston. Although they have had energy most of the time, she and her partner also run out of running water. They have been melting snow on the gas stove to flush toilets and wash dishes.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that we have this individualistic way of running our utilities and our electrical grid here in Texas,” he said. “I am angry because it is causing people to lose their lives.”
As Texans try to survive, resources are running low. HEB, the state’s leading grocery chain, offered shorter store hours, but in some places it had posted signs saying it was closed during those hours. Gas stations had long lines, with concerns that fuel was running low quickly.
In a long line surrounding a shopping complex in Austin, Jason Fry waited to enter a grocery store and search for food, “pretty much anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or heated,” he said.
At home, his supplies included a can of black beans, some nuts, a bag of corn chips and some refrigerated items, which he guessed were fine because “the apartment is not much warmer than the refrigerator,” he said.
Along the same lines, Mario Esquivel was looking for milk, eggs and water. “Yesterday, I bought some for my neighbor, and now I have to get it for us,” he said.
Everyone came to his three-bedroom house, he said, because, unlike other people, he had a gas stove that he kept on for warmth. “We have to do it,” he said, despite the warnings About life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning from fumes.
At Russell Lee Elementary School, which has become a heating center In Austin, Chandra Vargas was charging her devices and filling water bottles for about an hour. He had been living largely without electricity since Sunday night and woke up without water on Wednesday morning.
For warmth, she has relied on a large duvet and her dog. As a meal, luckily he has a stash of granola bars and ramen noodles. But because the winter storm has effectively immobilized Austin for days, she is “tired of being locked in the house in the dark.”
“It’s ridiculous. Anyone could have seen this coming,” Vargas said. “They’re just Republicans who don’t want to do anything for anyone. They let us down with power. They let us down with health insurance. They let us down with Covid, and they all suck.
“I’m this close to going down to the governor’s mansion and screaming damn death outside their windows, because I don’t know what the hell to do.”
Mutual aid groups and individuals have tried to step in and fill in some of the gaps. In Austin, residents volunteered to take people to hotels or other places in search of shelter or food on Wednesday. Local bar and restaurant owners tried to offer hot meals to hungry families. And residents created documents to share resources across the state, from pet shelters to warming centers.
Amid the chaos, there has been widespread anger at the state government, which has often touted its energy independence. As Republicans like Governor Greg Abbott try to blame renewable energy infrastructure or the Biden government for grid problems, residents are calling for accountability.
“Governor Abbott has failed to protect Texans from the climate crisis, promoting a deadly fossil fuel economy and selling us alongside other leaders for privatization and destructive deregulation,” Paris Moran, digital director of the Sunrise Movement, said in a release. “He didn’t make sure we were prepared for an extreme weather event like this, and now he doesn’t protect us in our time of need.
“It is time for me to resign.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism