Massive storms, outages force tough decisions amid pandemic

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FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2021, file photo, people select shirts and sweatshirts being given away at a Gallery Furniture store after the owner opened his business as a shelter for those without power at their homes in Houston. Making decisions about risks large or small in the pandemic era is fraught enough. But the storms and outages ravaging Texas and other states have added a whole new layer to the process. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

DALLAS – Ashley Archer, a pregnant, 33-year-old Texas financial adviser, and her husband have been cautious about the coronavirus. They work from home, go out mostly just to get groceries and wear masks whenever they are in public.

But when a friend lost power amid the winter storms that have left millions of Texans without heat in freezing temperatures, the couple had to make a decision: Should they take on additional risk to help someone in need?

Archer said they didn’t hesitate. They took her husband's best friend into their suburban Dallas home.

“He’s like family,” she said. “We weren’t going to let him freeze at his place. We figured, ‘OK, we’re willing to accept a little bit of risk because you’re not in our little pandemic group.’"

Weighing the risks in the pandemic era is fraught enough. But the storms and outages that have hit a big swath of the U.S. over the past several days have added a whole new layer of complexity.

Do we open doors to the neighbors? Should we stay in a hotel or go to a shelter? And what to do about hand-washing, the most basic of precautions, when there is no running water?

The last few months have been challenging enough for Jonathan Callahan. He lost his job cleaning mail trucks in Jackson, Mississippi, and soon found himself homeless, sleeping in an abandoned church at night. Then the storm hit Mississippi this week, bringing bouts of snow and freezing cold.

Callahan, 40, was one of 14 people staying at a warming shelter at a community center in Jackson, with cots spread around the gym. He said the space has been comfortable, meals have been provided, and he and some others played a game of pickup basketball, which “warmed us right up.”