For each of the past three nights, William Martinez, his wife, his two young children and his in-laws have been almost completely without power in freezing San Antonio.
Martinez and his family have relied on blankets and a fireplace for warmth. None of them have been able to take a shower in more than 72 hours because all of the water pipes in the home are frozen. And the only power that the family does get comes in hour-long waves no more than twice a day.
“Texas is lacking so much and it breaks your heart,” Martinez, 42, told Yahoo News Wednesday afternoon. “I have never imagined that something like this would happen here.”
Martinez and his family are a stark example of the more than 3 million Texans still without power. Some have gone four days without electricity after a rare winter storm slammed the state and created bitterly cold and borderline-unlivable conditions.
And while many Texans are fearful for what the near future looks like, some elected officials appear to care less.
Twitter blew up Thursday morning with accusations that Republican Sen. Ted Cuz and his family flew to Cancun to stay at a resort, and Associated Press later confirmed the news. Spokespersons for Cruz’s office did not immediately respond to Yahoo News' request for comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Texans don't know when they will get their lights back on or access to running water.
Here we are, my in-laws,my wife, my 5 and 3 y/o,dogs and cats w/ a single fireplace in #SanAntonio #Texas . We r lucky to have a fireplace, but what about the ppl who don’t own a meal, gas or even a place to sleep when is cold out there?We aren’t the #1 country in the world 🇺🇸😢 pic.twitter.com/SEyVjvBjod
— Marty (@wmrtnez) February 17, 2021
Additionally, on social media, viral videos show apartment complex pools frozen over, water rushing into homes from burst pipes, long lines for grocery stores and cars idling in the streets, unable to get to their destinations.
At least 31 people have died as of Wednesday afternoon as a result of the severe weather. And that number is expected to climb with no end to the Texas nightmare in sight.
Power grid operators in Texas say they can’t predict when the outages might end, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the agency that oversees the grid.
In an effort to avoid a total blackout, ERCOT is instructing utility companies to cut power to customers.
“We needed to step in and make sure that we were not going to end up with Texas in a blackout, which could keep folks without power — not just some people without power but everyone in our region without power — for much, much longer than we believe this event is going to last, as long and as difficult as this event is right now,” ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said.
Meanwhile, local and federal leaders have left many Texans confused and frustrated with their reluctance to take responsibility for the crisis.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, blamed ERCOT on Tuesday, saying the utility "has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.” He then appeared on cable news that evening to argue that the fiasco is due to green energy, specifically frozen wind turbines.
“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said to Fox News host Sean Hannity. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”
The power grid in Texas is unique in that it does not cross state lines and therefore is not under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In the early 2000s, Republican leaders in the state pushed to deregulate the state's power market and allow power companies to determine when and how to build and maintain power plants. Now this setup and its flaws are coming back to haunt the state.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who was energy secretary under former President Donald Trump, blamed the blackouts on the rise in solar and wind energy in the state.
“If wind and solar is where we’re headed, the last 48 hours ought to give everybody a real pause and go wait a minute,” Perry said. “We need to have a baseload. And the only way you can get a baseload in this country is [with] natural gas, coal and nuclear.”
The mayor of the west Texas town of Colorado City recently resigned from backlash after saying it wasn’t the government’s responsibility to help those suffering.
“No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!” Tim Boyd wrote on Facebook, based on screenshots from local CBS affiliate KTAB. “Sink or swim, it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!”
Democrats and social-media users have also called out Cruz for previously making light of California’s power outages last year. In tweets last August, Cruz accused President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — then both Democratic candidates — of wanting to make California’s “failed energy policy the nationwide standard.”
In response to criticism of his past tweets Tuesday night, Cruz acknowledged he had “no defense.”
“A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down,” Cruz tweeted. “Not good. Stay safe!”
But for residents going through the blackouts and below freezing temperatures in their homes, the pointing of fingers from elected officials is doing nothing for them in their most desperate time of need.
Martinez, a longtime Republican who was born in Chile and moved to the United States when he was 20, never expected to endure these frigid temperatures, dangerous road conditions and widespread power outages when he decided to make Texas his home.
“As a veteran and a person who has lived in a Third World country, this is a huge failure of the government overall,” Martinez said. “In Texas, they worry more about guns and about passing silly legislation than [people]. Climate change is a real thing and it’s smacking us in the face.”
This is how cold it is at my Apartment.
As a Texan, yes, I'm certainly not built for this. I don't even care. pic.twitter.com/FMt8imglJp
— 𝐓𝐇𝐎𝐌𝐀𝐒 𝐁𝐋𝐀𝐂𝐊 ☩ (@ThomasBlackGG) February 16, 2021
Thomas Black, 29, from Dallas, posted images of the devastation on his Twitter page that have now gone viral. In one photo he took in the hallway of his apartment complex, 4-foot icicles hang from an indoor ceiling fan.
“Texans just aren’t used to this sort of thing, so of course there’s going to be panic just like there was at the beginning of COVID,” Black told Yahoo News. “If you go to the grocery store right now, the entire meat section is gone, the whole entire produce section has gone. I’m sure a lot of the nonperishables are gone at this point, and I’m sure the toilet paper’s gone again.”
“The leadership has failed us on all fronts,” he added. “It certainly is worrisome.”
Like many other Texas residents, Black is bracing for another winter storm, due to arrive Wednesday night.
“We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and it's going to take people stepping up from our leadership team to really make a difference in what the future looks like for us,” he said. “Right now it doesn't look good if this next storm is as bad or worse than this one.”
Erica Gittens of San Marcos has been couch surfing since Sunday, when water came rushing into her apartment while she was talking to her roommate.
“We first thought like, maybe it was the air conditioning starting up,” Gittens said. “And then it’s like, ‘psych, no it’s waterfall.’ Our ceiling started to cave in on us.”
Gittens, who has apartment insurance, says she is unable to get the immediate help she needs because her apartment complex’s corporate office also flooded and the insurance company cannot send or receive the documents that they need. She started a GoFundMe campaign to help stay afloat in the meantime and said “it’s going to be weeks” before anything begins to work itself out. For now, she has to depend on friends and strangers.
Baby when I tell you texas ain’t built for this weather I mean it. pic.twitter.com/307gmzx8aG
— Luther Vandross JR. (@SirMarcusJ_) February 17, 2021
Gittens, who is a certified nursing assistant, still considers herself lucky. She says that despite her unfortunate situation, there are others who are doing much worse.
“People may have machines that they have to be hooked up to at night,” she said. “I’m thinking about my residents and how some places may not even be able to have generators due to the freezing. You never know what may happen.”
As many Texas residents prepare for their fourth night in a row without power and water, Gittens says outsiders should have some compassion about what’s going on throughout the state.
“I just feel like everybody during this time should be very understanding,” she said. “This isn’t something that we're used to. … We just need to pray for Texas as a whole.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jastan Cantu, Thomas Black, William Martinez
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