By Alyssa Walrad
While many thought that 2021 would bring an end to the chaos that ensued over the last twelve months, we are not out of the clear. This year has brought unprecedented circumstances, including historic and catastrophic damage to Texas. On Feb. 10-11 and 13-17, Texas was struck by two winter storms that left millions without electricity, running water, hazardous conditions and massive food and water shortages. Additionally, these storms prevented vaccine shipments to reach clinics and other medical facilities, leaving Texas in an extraordinary crisis.
Feb. 10 marked the beginning of the impending storm that swept over one-third of the southern United States. In Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo warned Monday that the time to “prepare for this historic storm has closed,” and citizens should “hunker down.” Hidalgo was right: historically low temperatures plagued Texas, with Dallas, Austin and San Antonio seeing single digits for the first time in 30 years. Rolling blackouts followed shortly after the storm hit, with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a grid operator that controls roughly 90% of Texas’ electricity, announcing a “record-breaking demand” for services. This prompted about 4 million people to resort to extreme measures to bring in and maintain any warmth in their homes, such as duct taping windows and door jams shut, confining to one room and wearing multiple layers. Videos have dominated social media, as dozens shared footage of severely damaged homes filled with water from broken pipes.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot argues that ERCOT has been “anything but reliable” in the efforts to restore power. Yet, Texas remains the only state in the United States to not have federally regulated energy resources. ERCOT remains the independent leader in Texas’ power supply. The storm sparked a much needed discussion regarding this outdated system, in which the water supply froze from subfreezing temperatures. This water is converted to steam and used to generate electricity, providing the basic necessities to residents.
President Joe Biden signed a major disaster declaration on Feb. 11, and has since been in contact with Gov. Abbott, coordinating FEMA efforts and other resources to aid Texas residents. Abbot’s office confirmed that the Biden administration only approved assistance to 77 of 254 counties in Texas, an arguably desultory response to the emergency millions are still experiencing statewide. Though some state and federal representatives work tirelessly to bring residents relief, The Washington Post confirmed Wednesday that Republican senator of Texas, Ted Cruz, was spotted leaving Houston to board a flight to Cancun, Mexico with his family. Once confirmed, overwhelming outrage circulated that the senator was fleeing his responsibilities while his citizens were stuck in uninhabitable conditions, with dozens dying as a result.
While many believe Texas representatives need to take responsibility for the disaster and reconsider their grid system, many are coordinating efforts of relief for Texans. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has raised nearly $5 million through her fundraiser by Sunday. Ocasio-Cortez flew to Houston to join Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Al Green to distribute essentials to residents. A rising number of celebrities and athletes have joined the cause, including actress Reese Witherspoon, musician Kacey Musgraves and DJ/Producer Diplo. NFL player Dak Prescott teamed up with actor Matthew McConaughey to provide meals to facilities in Dallas. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro raised over $150,000 for Feeding Texas, a non-profit whose mission is to create a unified effort to end hunger in Texas. Sources have yet to confirm any fundraising efforts or donations made by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Texas residents remain in turmoil amidst the historically destructive storm that swept across the state and much of the lower United States. NBC has compiled a list of resources and organizations that are providing relief to residents in Texas. If you would like to donate, information can be found below: