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Exhausted, Freezing Texans Face Another Crisis: Water

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Exhausted, Freezing Texans Face Another Crisis: Water

“We don’t know how long this is going to go on.”

Jessica Girardo has called every pharmacy within driving distance of her home in Chester, Texas. Not a single one can give her the medication she urgently needs.

“They either are closed or don’t have that medication due to no shipments,” thanks to icy roads and lack of water, Girardo told The Daily Beast.

It’s a crisis her sister is experiencing on the other side of the medical profession, working in a nearby hospital that was forced to improvise on Wednesday night due to water shortages.

“They were disposing of waste in bags and using bedpans for employees and patients because they have tankless toilets that can’t flush without running water,” Girardo said.

After a devastating winter storm struck the state, many Texans were left without basic utilities. Nationwide, the winter storm’s death toll has reached roughly two-dozen. But even as parts of the power grid have returned, millions of Texans still have uncertain access to basic necessities—and especially water.

In Edinburg, Texas, where temperatures rarely drop below freezing, arctic temperatures sent the Palm Valley Animal Society’s pipes bursting—and the shelter staff scrambling to get bottled water for the animals in their care.

“We don’t know how long this is going to go on,” Donna Casamento, PVAS’s executive director told The Daily Beast.

PVAS, which shelters cats and dogs, is located in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, within an hour of the Mexico border. The typically warm climate allows the no-kill shelter to house dogs in outdoor kennels, with outdoor water piping.

Even when the pipes are working, the water might be contaminated after the storm, as water treatment facilities battle power outages. PVAS was able to fix its burst pipes, only for the town of Edinburg, like 276 locations across the state, to be slapped with a water advisory, with residents being instructed to boil their tap water before drinking.

For buildings without functioning kitchens, that’s easier said than done.

“We don’t have stoves and the ability to boil the amount of water we need for the hundreds of dogs and cats we have in our facilities,” Casamento said. Staffers and a network of volunteers have stepped in to bring gallons of boiled or bottled water from their own homes every morning, sometimes while carpooling, she said. “We’ve had a lot of staff having trouble getting here because there’s no access to gas.”

Across the state, other Texans have the opposite problem: kitchens, but no water.

“We’ve been without water since Tuesday night,” Meg Vondriska of Austin, Texas, told The Daily Beast. “I live in an apartment complex and they gave us about an hour’s heads up that the water would be turned off. Last we heard from them was yesterday that they were trying to get a plumber to look at the burst pipes. It’s frustrating that there’s no communication about when water will be back.”

In a Thursday press conference, Austin officials estimated that tens of thousands of residents were out of water. Like Edinburg, Austin is also under a boil water notice—not that Vondriska’s water is working anyway.

“The city hasn’t really communicated what’s going on,” she said. “I found out about the city-wide boil notice through NextDoor and Twitter, not the city of Austin. I’m so paranoid we’re going to lose electricity and not be able to cook anything either.”

Looming over the desperate search for essential goods in the state were, by most accounts, at least 20 deaths nationwide tied, directly or indirectly, to the historic cold.

One senior health official in the Biden administration said they believe the death toll is likely higher than the numbers that have been reported in the press over the last two days. But there’s no way of understanding in real time how many people are dying as a result of, for example, hypothermia or because they had existing diseases and couldn’t reach their medications.

Some deaths stem from people just trying to keep themselves warm.

“The carbon monoxide deaths, fire deaths … it’s called mortality displacement. There are increases in deaths happening right now. These aren’t the deaths of 35-year-old healthy individuals. We’re talking about people who may have a heart issue which was exacerbated by the 20 degree weather and had a heart attack as a result,” said Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “The only way to figure out if we had a mass casualty event is to do an excess death analysis —to figure out how many more deaths occurred over the last several days than occurred, say, in 2019.”

Even as the death toll was still far from clear, Texans found themselves pivoting from one crisis to the next.

Megha Joshi, also of Austin, said the only warning she received ahead of a water shutoff came from friends in the neighborhood. “I kind of knew about an hour before, because some friends were starting to lose water, and texted me to prepare,” Joshi, a doctoral candidate, told The Daily Beast.

Without running water, she and friends have resorted to melting snow in kitchen pots and using it to flush their toilets. Joshi’s boyfriend, meanwhile, has too much water in his apartment.

“His apartment had pipes freeze and burst. He had three inches of water in his apartment. Everything’s ruined. It’s molding,” she said. “He has to deal with flood insurance on top of everything, and he has no heat, because his heat is tied to the water system.”

Patchy access to water and electricity has had other fallout for PVAS, like trying to wash blankets for the dogs and weather-proof their kennels. “We’re having to buy so many things that, quite honestly, we didn’t have a budget for,” Casamento said, adding that the shelter was soliciting donations for basic supplies like water and bedding, due to a power generator that can’t handle PVAS’s washing machine.

Fortunately for PVAS’s dogs, however, new homes are awaiting some of them. Even in the depths of the weather emergency, Texans have agreed to foster dozens of the shelter’s dogs, while rescue organizations from Minnesota, New York, Colorado have stepped in to take some pups to warmer homes.

“We put out a plea,” Casamento said, “and in just a couple days, we got over 100 dogs into foster care.”

Source: Exhausted, Freezing Texans Face Another Crisis: Water

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