KILLEEN, Texas – After her pipes burst and flooded her home, after spending one night on a church couch and one fleeing a four-alarm fire at the hotel where she and her husband sought refuge, Janet Culver, 88, has finally returned home. a week after the start of the epic Texas winter nightmare.
But oh, what she found.
The sunken living room where Ms Culver and her husband, 91, Jim, had sequestered themselves from the coronavirus was now a freezing pond. The parquet in the dining room was warped by water. Their United Episcopal Church, which lost three members to the virus over the past terrible year, had also flooded.
“I’m at the end of my rope,” Ms. Culver said.
Who was not now? Even with power restored to most of the state and warmer weather in the forecast for much of this week, millions of Texans whose health and finances were already battered by a year of Covid-19 are doing so. now facing a rampant recovery from a storm estimated to cost more than $ 20 billion, the costliest in state history, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.
Statewide, many basic items were scarce on Monday. Gas stations were without fuel, grocery store shelves were empty, and long queues formed in the morning darkness at food distribution sites. About 8.6 million people were still being asked to boil their drinking water, and about 120,000 others had no water at all as plumbers and water utilities battled an epidemic of leaking pipes and broken.
For many low-income families whose ceilings collapsed and kitchens flooded after frozen pipes burst, the disaster did not melt with the snow. At the start of a new week, they were again dubbed with relatives. They were trying to figure out where to go next, how to pay for the storm-weakened cars. They feared their children would fall further behind in class after their laptops were destroyed by sprayed pipes.
“I’ve been so low,” said Iris Cantu, 45, a nanny and single mom in Dallas. Ms Cantu spent three weeks at home sick with Covid-19 over the summer, then gazed at the cave from the ceiling of her waterlogged living room last week – the result of a hose failure she said his owner’s insurance would not cover.
When her illness took a toll on her finances last summer, Ms. Cantu began going to a community food distribution center for fresh fruit, bread and meat as she tried to replenish her savings. Now there is the cost of fixing her house and replacing her 3-year-old daughter’s toys that have been contaminated by a shower of moldy insulation.
President Biden’s declaration of a major disaster in Texas – at one point last week each of the state’s 254 counties was on a freeze warning – will provide more help. But with millions of people scrambling for help, Cantu said she has yet to make a complaint to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
At the San Antonio Food Bank, Diana Gaitan joined a two-mile line of cars waiting for hard-to-find groceries including tortillas, beans and water. The aftermath of the storm loomed as yet another miserable hurdle to face after Ms Gaitan contracted the coronavirus and stopped working last year as her stress and anxiety intensified.
“It’s kind of like we’re cursed,” said Ms. Gaitan, 66.
She scoured the grocery stores for milk, eggs, and potatoes, but wasn’t having much luck finding enough to feed her grandchildren the bean and cheese tacos they loved.
Killeen, a military town anchored by Fort Hood, has been battered over the past year by a litany of soldier murders and suicides and revelations of widespread sexual harassment at the post office. These challenges came amid a pandemic that has infected at least 20,148 residents, or 1 in 18, of surrounding Bell County, according to a New York Times database.
And the consequences of the storm – damaged houses, scarcity of food and lost wages – have multiplied. Over the weekend, drivers prowled around looking for a petrol station without plastic bags covering empty pumps. People lined up for hours outside supermarkets for bottled water, milk and juice. They took sponge baths at their sinks.
“So many things have gone downhill on so many levels,” said Dr Chris Colvin, medical director of Seton Medical Center just outside Killeen.
A week later, these outages were still affecting critical services. According to Mayor José Segarra, the flights were far from the airport because the water pressure was too low. At the hospital, Dr Colvin said on Saturday there was not enough water for employees to flush the toilet or wash their hands. The weekend shift was advised to use the bathroom before going to work, he said.
And a new wave of patients was coming in: people who had fallen and were injured during the storm, but who couldn’t cross the roads until the worst of times had passed.
It was just crisis after crisis, said Chris Mendoza, an Army veteran still recovering from Covid-19 when a bathroom pipe burst and flooded his family from their home.
They couldn’t afford it. Not now. Mr Mendoza said he lost his job as a barber when the first wave of closures due to a pandemic closed salons last year. He spent a month without a job before finding a job as an exterminator, killing parasites on commission while his wife, Jenny, home-taught their 2 and 5-year-old sons.
Although they wore masks when they saw friends and sat separated from the congregation in their church, the virus reunited with family in late January. They all tested positive, but Mr. Mendoza was clubbed. He spent two weeks in bed, a beefy guy who played basketball and lifted weights now breathless from a trip to the bathroom.
His health had barely recovered when the power went out and the frozen pipe cracked, filling the playroom and the boys’ room with water and ruining their plans and finances. The pandemic disproportionately hit working-class families like the Mendozas, and they were unable to save $ 90 a month for tenant insurance. Now there was new furniture to buy and hotel rooms to rent.
“Nobody expected it,” Mendoza said.
The family slept together in the master bedroom for one night. But half the house is unliveable, and the heat and noise of half a dozen industrial fans and dehumidifiers have forced them to go looking for a hotel room.
The Culvers, the older couple displaced in the blaze, had spent much of the pandemic stranded in their homes to avoid the coronavirus. Now the house where they sat together every night to watch “Jeopardy!” after dinner was barely habitable.
The gray sofa and armchairs were soaked. The floors in the dining room were warping from the humidity – a danger to a couple who use canes and have their hips and knees replaced. For now, they were staying with friends until they could turn their water back on.
The next morning the Culvers fled the burning hotel, where firefighters said the frost had disabled the automatic sprinkler system, their priest, Reverend Steve Karcher, dropped by to give them some bathroom supplies . He then went to St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church to assess the damage as the hot weather thawed the pipes and melted the snow piled on the roof.
It was bad. Two inches of water splashed over the benches. The floor of the small room where Mr. Karcher keeps the chalices and the sacrament swayed like a waterbed.
The past year could have been a bit even for the biblical Job. Mr Karcher’s mother died from the virus in the fall, along with the three church members who felt like family.
“On the one hand, it’s horrible, serious,” Mr. Karcher said of the winter storm and the past year. But now urgent questions await, he said. There was water to vacuum, plumbers to call, a preschool to rebuild. “You have a job to do. Boost morale. Go back to work.”
Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio contributed reporting from San Antonio.