HOUSTON – Two days before the storm began, Houston’s chief elected official warned her constituents to prepare as they would for a major hurricane. Many took heed: Texans who could stocked up on food and water, while nonprofits and government agencies set out to help those who couldn’t.
But few foresaw the fiasco that was to come.
As temperatures plunged and snow and ice whipped the state, much of Texas’ power grid collapsed, followed by its water systems. Tens of millions huddled in frigid homes that slowly grew colder or fled for safety. And a prideful state, long suspicious of regulation and outside help, was left to seek aid from other states and humanitarian groups as many of its 29 million people grasped for survival.
At one hospital, workers stood outside to collect rainwater. Others stood in line at a running tap in a park. A mother of three took her children to shelter in a furniture store after she could see her breath forming in the family’s trailer. University professors fundraised so their students could afford meals.
Images of desperate Texans circulated worldwide. To some, they evoked comparisons to a less wealthy or self-regarding place. To others, they laid bare problems that have long festered.
The state’s Republican leadership was blamed for ignoring warnings that winter could wreak the havoc that it did, and for not providing local officials with enough information to protect residents now. A lack of regulations to protect critical infrastructure and failure by officials to take recommended steps to winterize equipment left the nation’s largest energy-producing state unprepared for last week's weather emergency.
A week after she warned her county’s nearly 5 million residents about the impending storm, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was sleeping on an air mattress at the county’s emergency operations center. Her home was without power for three nights.
“It’s worth asking the question: Who set up this system and who perpetuated it knowing that the right regulation was not in place?” Hidalgo said. “Those questions are going to have to be asked and I hope that changes will come. The community deserves answers.”