Tales from Texas’ power crisis

Sydney Brummel– Staff Writer

When freshman Elizabeth Lipp (Laurel, NE) left for Texas with her family on Feb. 12, she looked forward to a vacation characterized by quality family time, the making of memories, and, of course, the renowned warm weather of the southern United States. While Lipp’s time in Texas may have involved the first two, the warm temperatures, unfortunately, failed to make an appearance.

“The whole way down from Kansas and clear through Texas, it was 28 degrees,” Lipp said.

Lipp’s family tries to take a family vacation annually. This year, the Lipp family planned to travel through Fort Worth and San Antonio and, among other activities, see the Alamo. However, due to the unexpected forecast of freezing, icy weather, the family ended up driving straight to Corpus Christi, a coastal city in southern Texas. The Lipp’s began their stay in an Airbnb on a nearby island on Sunday, Feb. 14.

“The lady [owner of the Airbnb home] texted my mom, ‘You’re going to want to get groceries today because everything’s going to be shut down tomorrow,’” Lipp said. 

Contributed Photo

Sure enough, after Mrs. Lipp bought the family groceries, they lost their power that Sunday night. On Monday night, the family’s house lost access to water.

“We had no heat, so we’d drive around in our car during the day to charge our phones and stay warm,” Lipp said. “Nothing was open…so we went to the beach a couple times in our coats.”

The bridge connecting the island to the mainland remained mostly closed for their entire vacation. During the limited time that the bridge was open, Lipp’s father booked a room in a hotel—which was not open for overnight stays—just so that his family could shower before they returned to their Airbnb. The power did not return to their house permanently until Friday, Feb. 19—they day they left Texas.

“It makes for a good story,” Lipp said.

The Lipp’s were a few of the many individuals affected by the mid-February winter storm in Texas. With the plunging temperatures and icy conditions, millions lost access to electricity, heat, and water.

Anna Blauw, a Dordt University graduate from the class of 2020, is currently studying at the University of Texas in Austin to get her master’s degree in harp performance. Her classes are entirely online this year. 

Blauw lives in an apartment in Hyde Park, a neighborhood situated about two miles north of downtown Austin, where she and many others experienced the effects of 6 to 7 inches of snow and below-freezing temperatures in Texas.

“I was driving to church on Sunday morning, and it was kind of slick and icy…maybe 40 degrees,” Blauw said. “For this area, it’s a little bit shocking.” 

Only about forty individuals made it to the church services that Sunday, as most people chose to not venture out in the snow and cold. After all, winter weather to this extent had not occurred in Texas in decades.

At around 2 a.m. on the following Monday morning, Blauw’s apartment lost power and heat.

“I woke up and I was like ‘It’s cold in my apartment,’” Blauw said. “Then I realized the heater wasn’t running, and my light wouldn’t turn on.”

First determined to “stick it out,” Blauw spent her first powerless and heatless morning in her apartment with extra layers and a blanket. By the afternoon, though, her apartment had reached about 50 degrees. She and about ten other individuals ended up staying at the home of some friends from her church.

“We all hunkered down there and tried to stay warm together,” Blauw said.

Blauw’s apartment went without power for about two and a half days. The power outage, as was the case for most Texans, could have resulted from a rolling blackout in order to conserve power, from powerline damage, or from the power grid simply being unable to keep up with the electricity demand. Although most homes have had their power restored, many still face serious issues with their water supply.

“They [Texas municipalities] don’t insulate their pipes the way they do in other places,” Blauw said. “So a lot of people were struggling with burst pipes…there was damage in people’s homes and also damage to city water veins.”

For several days, Blauw had to boil all her water—regardless of whether it was for drinking or face-washing—per the city’s notice. Due to the lack of power, the water filtration systems were not guaranteeably safe to ingest. 

Since the power outages, Texas has more or less returned to its typically warmer weather, and power has, for the most part, been restored. In fact, just last week Blauw enjoyed temperatures in the low 80s.

As the state of Texas reels from its sudden wintry blast, the people have sought answers as to what or whom is at fault for such immense damage. According to the Texas Tribune, some blame the state’s power grid operator while others blame Electrical Reliability Council of Texas. Regardless, investigations are being carried out to ensure that the state is prepared in the future and that a disaster like this does not occur again, whether it be through new legislation or improved communication and alert systems.

“Clearly we weren’t prepared this time, so how can we learn from that and then do better going forward?” Blauw said. “That’s one of the biggest things that is affecting the state as a whole.”

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