Winter storm shuts down Texas – Wipes out power, water and classes

The front entrance to UMHB, with Luther Memorial behind it, was covered in snow as the sun came out by mid-week. Temperatures remained low, however, so that snow stayed on the ground for several days.
Courtesy photo

By The Bells Staff

UMHB students experienced the largest Texas winter storm on record beginning on Valentine’s weekend. Instead of special dinners and celebrations, students as well as all Texans found themselves getting ready for an unprecedented winter storm.

By Friday, Feb. 13, milk and other essential items were already off the shelves, and people seemed to be in a panic. They were right to be worried.

Most Texans were not expecting such a long snow and ice-in, since storms of this level almost never happen in the Lone Star State.  The real problem was that the state’s power grid was not prepared for this level of winter freeze, leaving its population in peril. Millions of Texans suffered for days without heat and water in record setting cold temperatures. The death toll is still being calculated.

ERCOT (The Electric Reliability Council of Texas) ordered rolling blackouts that began on Valentine’s Day to accommodate all of the state’s needs. Texans would have to deal with these blackouts until the close of the following weekend.

On the first days after Tuesday’s hardest freeze, the lines of people standing in the snow trying to get into HEBs in Central Texas stretched for blocks. Roads were iced over and trucks could not deliver supplies. Harrowing stories of the elderly and the ill left cold, deadly car pile-ups on the highways, as well as citizens coming to aid their fellow Texans filled the newscasts on television, while press conferences regularly updated the public with the latest strategies for coping.

Water treatment plants shut down two days into the freeze, and those who had water were told it was necessary to boil it.

People who had no water at all collected snow to fill their bathtubs and melted it to flush toilets. It was a dangerous inconvenience and expense, as not only hospitals were at risk, but the most vulnerable of the population. All this, on top of a pandemic that already had the world out of kilter for the last year.

Students, professors and staff at UMHB found their campus closed as they shifted to concerns of weathering the storm. Much of the campus was without power, so the students turned to UMHB for help. BAWCOM opened its doors to students, offering free meals and power to all students.

UMHB Dining Services posted that their members and student workers all came together during the weather to serve over 4,000 free hot meals over four days, even with limited recourses.

UMHB also provided housing for students without power. First Baptist Belton, invited the men of UMHB to sleep inside of their church, while the Lady Crusaders were allowed into the Isabelle Rutherford Meyer Nursing Center to sleep. UMHB named social distancing and masking-wearing a priority at both locations.

For students who just needed to charge their phones and work on homework, UMHB opened Mabee Student Success Center 24/7 for students and Isabelle Rutherford Meyer Nursing Center was open until night came so that the women could sleep there.

Communication professors Kerry and Kathy Owens said in an email that they had at least 15 relatives staying at their home to stay warm.  Sandra Rodriguez, Secretary for the School of Humanities, said her family had no power or water, but they toughed it out with some ingenuity. Rodriguez posted that she kept medicines and food cool in the snow. Some professors had their parents move in with them, while others took their elderly to hotels for a higher chance of keeping power on for warmth, and to be closer to help and care if needed.

The Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, Dr. Stephen Baldridge, opened his home to those who might need a place to stay, as he reached out in an email to let people know they could come stay with his family.

Alumna and past Bells Editor in Chief Emily Mahan, from the Cypress area of Houston, said that her home was fine but that her neighbors’ pipes burst and flooded some homes, as was common throughout Texas. However, Mahan’s home did lose power.

“We lost power for three days at my house, which was definitely a challenge,” Mahan said. “At night, the inside of the house was about 35 degrees. We bundled up in front of the fireplace with lots of blankets to keep warm.”

Past Assistant Editor and now alumna Brianna Bullion lives in South Texas, which was also not spared from the freeze. She said that folks there are used to much warmer weather and did not cope well with this event.

“They panicked and lines at gas stations were really long for about four days,” Bullion said. “That was probably the scariest part, because everybody panicked.”

 “We had about 85% of the Rio Grande Valley without power,” Bullion said, “which meant a lot of people were struggling to find ways to keep warm and charge their devices. Since I work for a city library, we were open to the public as a place to charge devices and stay warm.”

The Texas weather brought almost 80 degrees by the next week – on Wednesday, Feb. 24, so trucks could drive in with supplies. 

The shelves were still short, if not empty, of water and milk and other perishables, but the long lines at the fast food restaurants, grocery stores and box stores began to shorten.

Things began to look like they might get back to a little more normal.  However, for those who lost their lives due to this weather event, or suffered irreparable damage, nothing will be normal again.

A snow-covered view from the south side of Luther Memorial during the winter storm during the week of February 14-27. Courtesy photo

Author: The Bells Staff

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