Thursday, February 18, 2021

In Frigid Texas, Desperate Families Take Risks to Stay Warm

Very, very dangerous risks, as it turns out.

At WSJ, "Parents resort to gas stoves or build fires inside their homes during power outages, with no relief in sight":  

AUSTIN, Texas—The children played in front of four lighted gas burners in East Austin on Tuesday night as their family tried to warm up during days of subfreezing temperatures, no power, and no relief on the horizon.

One-year-old Alex Johnson Jr. toddled, his brother Gabriel Brewster, 3, played with a toy, and their cousin Desiah Fisher, 6, hugged them close, as eight other family members huddled around the light of a single candle. Charlene Brewster, the mother of the boys and a 4-month-old daughter, said she knows how dangerous it is to try to heat an apartment with a gas stove. She had no option but to try it for a little while, she said.

“I know carbon monoxide poisoning, but what else can we do?” said Ms. Brewster, a city of Austin crossing guard. “Is anyone going to help us? I have a baby in here.”

t was a level of desperation many others in Texas had reached, days into a power grid shutdown during one of the coldest weeks in a generation. Like others across the state, Ms. Brewster’s family lost electricity—and, with it, heat—late Sunday night, before a snowstorm closed most of the city and temperatures plunged to single digits. As of midday Wednesday, officials had no estimate of when power might return.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid in the state, ordered blackouts to prevent damage to the electricity system after frozen power plants and a shortfall of natural gas required to run the plants limited power production.

In the public-housing complex where Ms. Brewster lives, help seemed far away. Those who risked driving were likely to meet blocked roadways or iced-over hills that many drivers couldn’t traverse. Those who called the city’s help line for transportation to an emergency warming shelter met only busy phone lines, they said. Many said they had no water or had run out of food. Most businesses had been closed all week.

Daylan Cook, 18, said he had built a fire inside a ceramic pot in his apartment living room, aided by hand sanitizer and gasoline. LaShay Thomas, 34, said she had developed a migraine headache from fumes and had begged neighbors to turn gas burners off, despite the vicious cold.

City officials urged residents not to resort to dangerous measures for heat. The Austin Fire Department reported responding to fires at several houses that likely began in fireplaces and to several toxic-exposure calls from residents using charcoal in their homes. The local emergency medical services department said it had responded to 63 carbon monoxide exposure calls in 2 1/2 days. In Houston, the local public health authority said the city was seeing record numbers of carbon monoxide poisonings, including at least two deaths.

Sharice Owens and Tosha Henderson, who are sisters, said they had tried to build a fire in Ms. Henderson’s home, but it quickly got too smoky for Ms. Owens’s three young children. They huddled instead under blankets in Ms. Owens’s apartment, where the kids, ages 4, 5, and 13, begged for warmth and food that the family had no way to cook.

“There’s only so much heat you can generate,” Ms. Henderson said. “It was 10 degrees. There’s only so many covers you can use. We were told there were supposed to be power rotations.”

This seems, how do you say? Criminal? 

I mean, Texas is a G.O.P. state, and the leadership there can't keep the lights on (or homes warm). 

And this related story is practically killing me, "Texas mayor resigns after telling residents without power ‘only the strong will survive’."

I get it: Buckle up, pull yourselves up by the bootstraps, blah, blah. I think the mayor might need a lesson in conservative principles: Government is supposed to be there when all else fails, as the protector of citizens who, through no fault of their own, are left literally powerless, hungry, and in some cases dead. 

Again, if this ain't criminality, I don't know what is. Save the "rugged individualism" for the days when the state government hasn't f*cked over the population so horribly.