A brutal winter storm continues to dominate much of the U.S. from New England to Texas, leaving millions of people without power in Texas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Faced with a rare weather occurrence, many southern states weren’t prepared for the ice and snow, bringing daily life to a halt.
Many people all over the country are currently focused on keeping warm and staying alive. There have been reports of families burning their possessions in the fireplace due to a lack of power and heat in their homes. Patients on ventilators and breathing machines were left without power, leaving few alternatives.
At least 25 people have died across the country as a result of the storm. Officials say the outages will likely last through the day and beyond.
How Residents Are Coping
Lower income individuals and neighborhoods with houses that lack insulation are struggling to survive the cold. The Texas energy system has been crippled by the storm, and officials don’t have enough electricity to power the millions of homes connected to the grid. Many people all over the country who were hunkering down during the storm were already dealing with poverty and food insecurity due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Last night in San Antonio, the downtown skyline lit up as the power went back online in the city’s skyscrapers and luxury condos, while surrounding neighborhoods were left in the dark.
At a migrant camp along the border, individuals and families were spotted wrapping themselves in blankets as they huddled around a fire. Community organizers are doing their best to reach out to the homeless as the risk of frostbite and hypothermia increases.
For almost everyone affected by the storm, it was the last straw after a devastating year. The coronavirus has already killed over 40,000 people in Texas.
“To go through all of that and then also to have stuff like this happen, it’s like, ‘One more historical event, and I’m going to develop PTSD,’” said Brianna Blake, 31, a mother of two sons. “I cannot do this.”
She says her family tried to stock up food, water, and gas before the storm set in, but gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies quickly ran out of essentials.
Her family put sleeping bags and futon mattresses in front of the fireplace. As the fire started to die down, she pulled a piece of artwork off the wall and threw it in the fire to keep it going.
Blake says she experienced the “most helpless feeling as a mom” as she watched her young sons sleep, “blissfully unaware” of what their parents were doing to keep them warm.
“The bare minimum is providing them with shelter and warmth and food — that’s our bare minimum job” as parents, she said. “It was just heartbreaking to know that…these boys were going…to wake up freezing, that they were going to wake up cold, I would have broken every belonging that belonged to me to prevent that from happening.”
Officials are also worried about an uptick in carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman and her child passed away after using a car to generate heat.
“Initial indications are that [the] car was running in the attached garage to create heat as the power is out. Cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building,” the Houston Police Department said in a statement.
Officials have also confirmed that the National Guard and thousands of state troopers are checking in on families who are struggling after the storm. In some areas, temperatures haven’t been this low in 100 years, which caused pipes to freeze and explode.
Hospitals Facing Unprecedented Challenges
Healthcare facilities are trying to keep the lights on amid rolling blackouts as the power comes on and off unexpectedly. A generator failed at a hospital in Harris County, Texas, forcing providers to race to administer 8,430 doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
“We got to work under the mission to avoid losing those vaccines with the loss of power, and we quickly put together a plan to allocate and to salvage them. We were looking for places where there were already large numbers of people,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during a press conference.
With severe weather, providers needed to bring the drug to areas where patients wouldn’t have to travel during the storm.
Of the 8,430 vaccines, county health officials were able to distribute 5,410 doses across five locations. 3,000 went to the Harris County Jail, 1,000 to Houston Methodist Hospital, 810 to Rice University, and 600 to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital, Hidalgo said.
The rest of the doses were put in storage after officials said they could be refrigerated and used later that day.
The winter storm continues to disrupt lives all over the nation. More ice and snow are expected today and tomorrow.