Interviews conducted by the Trucha team, featuring Alyssa, Charlie, Thania, Michelle, and Marco
Interviews conducted by the Trucha team, featuring Alyssa, Charlie, Thania, Michelle, and Marco
Weeks after Winter Storm Uri devastated the Rio Grande Valley and much of the Southern U.S. & Northern Mexico, the damage still remains. Not only are people’s water pipes and the natural gas infrastructure broken, but so is much of the trust in Texas government. As RGV residents still recover, 6 of our readers have generously shared what that week of cold, frustration, and moments of hope was like for them, and how they are faring now.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Preparing people on how to deal with the cold wasn’t normal 25 years ago, but it will more than likely become normal now. As far as businesses go, we knew that things were going to get worse before they got better. The surging costs of power are now looming on everyone, what my electric bill is gonna look like. This shouldn’t happen in the US, supposedly the most advanced nation, right?
We had plans to do a COVID-friendly, socially distanced Valentine’s Night dinner on the patio with the tables separated. We heard it was gonna get cold, so we made arrangements to bring people inside and still be six feet apart. Ever since the pandemic started, we made a promise to ourselves that we would always do Sunday brunch no matter what happened, but that past Sunday was the first Sunday in a long time that we did not have a brunch.
On Monday, we started hearing about the power outages and luckily, we had a generator on standby. In our staff group chat, everyone decided, that we were opening up on Tuesday. It dawned on me that it was Mardi Gras and my family has a big tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras. Even if it’s a pandemic, it’s freezing, and there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate, we have to keep going right?
Our team made a big pot of red beans and rice and I shared online that if you need a place to stay, if you need something warm in your stomach, come to the Gremlin, using our facilities and eating our food is free. Things were good on Tuesday, but on Wednesday we lost power for several hours. We used the generator to continue cooking and sharing free food with folks. It isn’t exactly business friendly and doesn’t really make us any money, but we wanted to give back to a community that has always supported us. Even in a pandemic, we still had customers, and if it means free soup, and some cornbread, like, let’s do it.
We started to lose power late Sunday night, so on Valentine’s. It went on and off and then finally went off permanently around 3am and it stayed off until late Wednesday. We lost water around the same time. When we saw our pipes the next morning, we had plumbing damage and water was gushing out of our roof. There was no way to stop it so we had to cut the pipes and keep them off. Then, there was the boil water notice, so even if we were able to use our water, it wasn’t safe, so we were just using water bottles we had kept from Hurricane Hanna last year.
We’d been preparing for any future emergencies after the hurricane, and I thought we were prepared for anything. But then we lost all the food in our refrigerator freezer. I had to build a little stove outside with cinder blocks so that we can cook food. It was a reminder of something my grandpa used to do at the rancho, you know, boiling water on a stove over open fire to make coffee and grinding the coffee in a molcajete.
Not knowing when things were going to get better was very frustrating. I live very close to UTRGV and can always see the parking lot from my home. The entire time my home was in the dark, we could see those parking lights on at the university. It felt like for neighborhoods like ours, lower income neighborhoods with elderly residents, they’re not as much of a priority as other parts of the Valley.
We’ve already seen [natural disasters] twice in one year where it feels like our leadership and the world is telling us “you’re on your own”, you know what I mean? Over the summer when the hurricane hit, mutual aid networks and regular folks were helping each other out because there’s no strong leadership and they knew for years something like this was bound to happen. We need to advocate for regulating our state electrical grid; otherwise, it will just happen again and again.
My power was out for four days, starting Monday morning (February 15). By Tuesday, my husband and I were bored out of our minds, so he called Sea Turtle Inc. and asked if they needed help. We showed up to the South Padre Island Event Center at around noon beside a huge line of cars full of muddy and sandy turtles. You had to take a moment and catch your breath seeing all of them.
We checked in, put on gloves and started unloading turtles. They were coming in from different places, mainly from Boca Chica, but a lot of them were getting washed to the jetties – seeing them from the causeway was heartbreaking.
Over 5,000 turtles were saved, with many more impacted. After a while the turtles woke up and started leaving, so the center start releasing them on Saturday. Experienced fisherman and the Sea Turtle Inc. staff would put them on cloth blankets and pick them up, slide them or move them like palettes.
I saw nothing but hope, love and caring for one another that week. I had so many of my friends reach out to me and offer me a shower, a warm meal. At Sea Turtle Inc. we had dinner that a restaurant provided for us. Brownsville Wellness Coalition hosted the food distribution we do every Friday, but that Friday (February 19) was our largest distribution ever. It hurt how we weren’t prepared for this.
I’ve noticed that our country is ready for war but we are not ready for any kind of disaster. If the country isn’t ready then we need to take the responsibility for ourselves and our community – we cannot wait on them for actions like storing clean water and backup batteries for the community, and installing green and solar energy.
On Sunday night [February 14] we were watching Snowpiercer [the TV show] and the power cut off. Snowpiercer is literally about freezing temperatures and people trying to survive in the cold, so it felt really ironic. At first, I thought not having power was just from the rolling blackouts. I understood these [blackouts] are common and that we had nothing to worry about, that it would be short term. I thought that was weird the power was still off the next day.
A friend who works at the Brownsville Public Utility Board messaged me on Tuesday (February 17) asking if I had power, I told him no, and he was super surprised. He told me my power was supposed to be coming on, and I thought it was strange how somebody from the electric company was telling me that something should be working? I told him I thought that they were just forcing us to go without!
I filed a report with PUB that night, and the next morning I saw a press release that said that everybody was getting their power restored, but my street wasn’t included in it. On Thursday, another press release went out, and said that except for two houses on my street, everyone’s power had been restored. That wasn’t true, and clearly they don’t know that over 200 houses were out of power. The utility people came to our house and turned on the power, but the lights flickered for five minutes and turned off for the next 18 hours. I asked customer service how can they know if anything’s working correctly if the workers don’t see if the power stays on? I just felt like my neighbors and our power were sacrificed so it could go to other people.
As nightmarish as that week was, something that gave me a little bit of hope was how, when nothing was working, FedEx was working and they delivered this very large stuffed animal I had ordered back in October. The stuffed alpaca, named RJ, arrived while we were freezing and feeling fed up from advocating for our power to be restored. This fuzzy thing helped me feel some sense of normalcy; I felt like I was living in pioneer times, and it’s 2021.
We need our power system to be part of the national grid and to stop the privatization of these resources. Texas politicians and energy corporations just need to suck it up and accept the fact that they were wrong and they’ve been caught. The blame was clearly in the hands of poor public administrators, and greedy, private sellers.
I only lost power for one day- Wednesday afternoon till Thursday morning. My internet still worked even when the electricity was down. I brought some of my plantitas in before the freeze so they wouldn’t die. A lot of people’s cacti and savila became white.
Whenever this started on Sunday, my mind went into crisis mode and trying to figure out how to help the community. We had a work meeting the previous week to talk about the Cesar Chavez March, but the conversation shifted to how to help people who might be without electricity and water. LUPE started to organize and share information on how to take care of water pipes and how to stay warm because we knew the temperatures were going to drop. I don’t think everyone took it too seriously.
In the beginning of the week (Monday), we shared information about businesses giving free food, about shelters and places to stay. In the middle of the week we distributed 250 fifty dollar gift cards for people to get space heaters, food, anything they need.
To make sure this doesn’t happen again, Texans need access to back-up power and services in case the power grid fails. This was a statewide problem, and a lot of community members didn’t even know where to go. The county was not offering a lot of help. There were shelters open but it was the city precincts taking action and not County Commissioners or others like that. Honestly it’s the little things that could have helped. If you can provide meals for people, that is ideal because that is very limiting to folks. Some people hadn’t eaten in a long time because they didn’t have transportation, and some people’s cars broke down due to the temperatures. Due to climate change, the temperatures keep changing and it’s going to be really, really hot or really, really cold. The response from the state and county officials was very poor; there were no backup plans.