Texas Storm Leaves Millions Without Power

Over the past week, the situation in Texas has dominated the news cycle of dropping temperatures, power grid failures, and a general lack of assistance from the state government for starving and freezing civilians. As a Texan myself, I’ve been in constant contact with family and friends, making sure my loved ones are safe. As I am in Washington D.C. for the semester, however, I interviewed one of my fellow Texans, and HCAU contributors, Emma Semaan on the frigid living conditions in the Lone State state this past week. 

Her Campus American University: What are some of your first recollections of the storm coming in? 

Emma Semaan:  People had been without power starting around Sunday night, but the news of that wasn’t as widespread as it has gotten to now. I literally went to take a nap on Monday after my class so I could do homework afterward and that was at about 5 o’clock. I woke up at 6 to no power, confused as hell and I was like okay it's not going to be that long, it's not that big of a deal. There was no indication that it was going to be a few days. That morning I had gone on a walk outside, admiring the snowfall like every other child/teenager in the state, until quite literally everything froze. 

HCAU: What warning, if any did you get from new sources or from government officials? 

ES: There was nothing. No warning whatsoever on potential outages as being widespread, or regarding how long they would last. There has been no communication, no estimation of how long it was going to be other than “as long as the inclement weather continued.” There wasn’t even an explanation for why the power was going out at first. Not only was there no explanation, but they took down the hotline for ERCOT, which is the private company that operates the electrical grid for the state. They removed the names and photos of their board members so that nobody could even track them down for information. Five of them don’t even live in the state, yet have this immense power over millions of citizens’ livelihoods now. 

HCAU: Obviously you didn’t get any warnings initially, but after the storm hit was there any information provided from new sources or government officials about getting food, how to protect your pipes, resources, etc. Any form of infrastructural help that could greatly aided citizens? 

ES: We like to say that  H-E-B, Whataburger, and Mattress Mike are Houston's real sources of crisis health assistance. Government officials  (i.e. Greg Abbott) were too busy going on Fox News to talk about how bad the Green New Deal is for Texas instead of actually providing relief. I saw more responses from representatives like Lizzie Fletcher, who emailed yesterday about the boil water advisory. On Tuesday night the advisory was given to boil water and we’re still under that advisory— but people don't have power and don't have gas so they essentially don’t have a safe way to boil the water. There was a tweet going around showing photos of people filling up their water jugs from a spicket in Halden Park. 

HCAU: How do you feel Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz have handled the situation? 

ES: I think it’s important to talk about both Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz in terms of government responsibility, specifically, because they’ve been more vocal than other representatives. For the so-called party of personal responsibility, they don't seem to be taking any. Ted Cruz was called out for his comments about the California wildfires last summer now that Texas in a very similar situation; he’s seemingly forgotten his comments of “this is what happens when Democrats run a stage.”  I literally was just reading this news article because he tweeted “I got no defense” in response to people re-circulating that tweet, and that was even before he left for Cancun— or maybe while he was in the airport, who knows. But, anyway, he's retweeting Rush Limbaugh stuff instead of promoting resources. Greg Abbott, on the other hand, tries to shift blame for this energy crisis from ERCOT and its outdated and unregulated system to wind turbines. It’s actually that the natural gas pipes froze— the wind turbines are not the issue. About 88% of Texas relies on natural gas and oil so he's full of s***. For some reason, he saw this as an opportunity to bash the Green New Deal on national television, despite the fact that the Green New Deal is not only not a law but has no space in Texas. El Paso, which is one of the few cities in the state not on the Texas power grid, is completely fine, but because Texas decided to secede its entire energy supply millions of people have no power— people are suffering, and for what? 

HCAU: Greg Abbott is up for re-election in 2022, do you think this will impact his campaign at all? ES:  I think the fact that people tried to dispute the fact that Ted Cruz flew to Cancun in the middle of one of the states worst moments, and then when it was irrefutable that he’d done so, acted as though it was completely normal, doesn’t bode well for any upcoming elections in Texas. People kept making comments like “what is he going to do, just stay cold in Texas,” when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done more for Texas citizens by raising money and working in conjunction with NGOs than our own federal representative. I really don't think this will impact people going to the polls unless we really put more effort into combating voter suppression and investing in voter outreach. Beyond that, I don't think this scandal will last in some voters’ memories as it really should.  Woman standing in snow Photo by Arek Socha from Pixabay HCAU: Being from Texas myself, I’ve seen tweets and news sources reporting on Arlington and Dallas and I know that a lot of discussions have been brought up about how places like Hyde Park and downtown Dallas have not seen power outage issues, I don't know if you want to speak more to that in the context of Houston right now? 

ES: I have been so lucky and so privileged that my family has a fireplace in our house, and that was the main reason that we were fine. Without that, we probably would not have been able to stay, and most people in Houston see no need for a fireplace as it is entirely decorative for about 95% of the year. That's the thing— some of the better-off areas were affected, but it's the people who did not have a fireplace, people whose homes are not very well insulated or built for this kind of cold, areas like the 3rd and 5th Wards in Houston who have really suffered and gone without power for 60+ hours. Also, I think it was really important for me personally that both of my parents are from Lebanon. They both grew up in the middle of a war and know what to do when the power goes out because over there that was, and still is, the daily reality for people. Most people don't have that experience, thank God, but most people don't have that skill set either. My dad has had an emergency preparedness kit in the garage, which is normally ridiculous, but now we have instances where my neighbors have come to tears because they didn't know that you could put a match to the gas stove to light it. Not to mention the fact that it’s not safe to drive to get groceries, especially for people who don't know how to drive in the ice or snow— my parents do, because they lived in Pittsburgh before we moved here, but most Texans don't have that experience or knowledge. 

HCAU: When we first were dealing with the effects of COVID-19 we saw Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, state that grandparents would be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economy now-former governor, Rick Perry, has stated that Texans should sacrifice power so that the electrical grid doesn't have to be saved by the federal government. I personally have never understood how state officials could even consider sacrificing the citizens that they are sworn to advocate for and I was wondering if you could speak on that more? 

ES: I think there are certain people who I question if they really believe what they are saying... but regardless of that, this narrative is extremely damaging. But people want to believe that somebody in power is on their side, and so I think it's just really irresponsible for any official to be pushing that narrative. First, it’s not true, and second, it’s a very poor indication of leadership if you’re willing to sacrifice lives for your pride. Don't forget that at the end of the day we are still dealing with COVID-19. Because of these outages, we’ve lost the capacity to vaccinate thousands of people (and that’s without an official count of vaccines lost due to canceled appointments and loss of power to vaccination sites’ refrigerators). So we don't know that number, all of the warming centers are limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and people can't even huddle together to get warm. Even going to a neighbor's house is a huge risk for spreading the virus, even though it's important because neighborhoods typically pull together in situations like this. We could even be looking at another outbreak because of this situation, and cold weather doesn't stop the virus. It’s now a matter of what risk is greater: freezing to death or contracting COVID.

ERCOT and Texas officials need to be held accountable for this disaster because it could’ve been entirely prevented. From de-regulating the Texas power grid to appearing on talk shows rather than managing the state’s worst crisis in decades. It has become clear that to those in power in Texas, at the end of the day this is simply a fight for money and power, not the safety and security of the millions of people who make up their constituencies. 

Here are some resources to help those in Texas. Feel free to share with those you know are affected and consider donating to local organizations if you have the ability to. 

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Photos: Her Campus Media