Matchboxes kept at home for lighting diyas helped when a blast of arctic air swept through Texas last week, causing massive outages and throwing life out of whack.
Achalesh Amar. director of disaster relief at Sewa International, a leading Indian-American non-profit, was thankful for the matchboxes when the power went off and a few families took shelter at his home because he has a fireplace.
“We keep matchboxes at the puja spot for lighting diyas, so we were able to light the gas stove,” Amar told indica News.
The erratic weather has sparked a lot of anxiety and many Indian Americans from Texas lamented that they were not told by the government it would be this severe and they would have to live without water and power for several days.
It started snowing on Valentine’s Day evening and after a few hours the power went off. The first few hours were okay since people had bought firewood to stay warm if the
power went off. However, no one was prepared or expecting power to be out for 30
to 72 hours, nor were they prepared for how to handle water pipes bursting.
Amar said they have set up around 10 WhatsApp groups with 500 volunteers working to help each other and people in need.
Amar said first they sent out messages to close the main waterlines and drain out the
water. Using WhatsApp, they also sent instructions on how to winterize the water pipe. A few people needed detailed instructions over the phone on how to close the main water line.
At many places, volunteers had to rush to help.
“This is the second in the past five years we are getting snow but never saw this extended record-low temperatures,” said Amar.
“Many people are not comfortable when it comes to handyman work,” he said. “No one told us the power would be out for 30 to 72 hours. This was unprecedented and no one
said that water pressure would go low or some communities would be out of water.”
Sewa Texas USA volunteers are delivering water and hot meals to many affected families, he said,
“There was a seven-month pregnant lady and their power went off. She was moved
to a senior home a couple of miles away. The coordination has been ongoing, since the past week either people needing medical help, stuck in cold, and if volunteers are not able to help out personally due to weather condition, they are trying to get them the right resources,” Amar said.
“At present, almost half of Texas is under boiling water advisory,” said Amar.
He said one family has had to shift homes a couple of times.
Anoop Rathod, who lives in Katy, Texas, also had to leave his home after the water pipe broke.
“This kind of weather in our part of the country is completely unheard of,” Rathod told indica News.
He said his boiler burst on February16 morning.
“Fortunately, we were at home and the boiler room is in the attic of the master bedroom,” Rathod recalled. “The hot water suddenly started gushing out and there was no power.”
He climbed the attic thought would fix it and but the water made the area so slippery he fell from the roof to the bedroom’s concrete floor.
He said everything in the bedroom got destroyed and he doesn’t know what to do next.
“Lesson learned; always know where everything is connected if you have ownership of the home,” Rathod said and thanked friends who were taking shelter at his place and who rushed to close the main pipeline.
Rathod has taken shelter at a friend’s place.
“The house is not in a livable condition right now and I have to talk to insurance and hope to find another facility,” Rathod said. “We are not able to get into the house because there is no water at home. By Monday we will seek extra accommodation. It’s Covid time and everything is coming at the same time.”
Everything is closed and even hospitals are not doing X-rays, he said.
“One of my friends went through a similar water issue and has broken his arm,” Rathod said.
He was asked not to come to the hospital since there was no electricity. They have put cast on the broken hand.
Another Texas resident Rashmi Singh, who lives in Pearland, said her brother’s house in Houston caught fire.
Singh told indica News that her brother and her father were seated in the living room downstairs near the fire after dinner when the top floor caught fire.
“We almost lost our father to the smoke. He is 74,” said Singh.
For Dr Lakshmi Srivaths, who too lives in Pearland with her mother-in-law and family, told indica News she woke up Monday morning freezing with cold.
“What was so shocking was when we woke up, we found there was no power,” said Srivaths. “It was really unexpected weather. We were not prepared for that, so it was quite tough.”
The family members wore multiple layers of clothes and somehow and with whatever battery was left in their laptops and phones managed to figure out how a fireplace works.
However, the master bedroom started overflowing.
“Soon the city stopped the water supply and we were without water on Tuesday and then Wednesday same — no power, no water. We rushed to buy water but the shelves were empty and somehow luckily we got a few water bottles. Even on Wednesday morning there was no water and the toilet would not flush,” Srivaths said.
“It was a panic situation at home.”
Finally, on Wednesday night, water started to trickle and it was taking four hours to fill one toilet flush.
“We were so nervous and finally mid Thursday the power and water situation slowly improved. We still have instructions not to use appliances and not use the washer and dryer. And not burden the system,” she said.
She did not sound pleased with the way the government managed the crisis.
“I guess the whole thing happened because the city was not prepared,” she said.