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Texans Struggle for Warmth Amid Wintry Blast

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

After traveling to multiple cities in search of a hotel with electricity or an open drive-thru window Monday evening, Mahathi Koutha broke down.

She, her husband, and 3-year-old son spent the evening on the road after the first hotel they booked did not have power. Koutha, a 32-year-old doctoral student at the University of North Texas, is diabetic and 18 weeks pregnant, and could not get warm despite layers of clothing.

Her sugar levels were dropping, and the family struggled to find a store open. She could have lost around $200 worth of insulin that needed to stay cold, if her house temperature were not so low.

"Thankfully the house was as cold as the fridge," Koutha said.

The most overwhelming concern, however, was that Koutha could not secure warmth and safety for her family, or get resources to her classmates.

"You're in such a position where you have everything you need, but you're unable to help your family and a lot of parents don't have that luxury as well," Koutha said over the phone. "They don't have the means to make sure that they're OK."

Koutha and her husband, Vijay Durbhakula, 33, were hardly alone Monday, as power outages across the state impacted millions. In addition to navigating falling inside temperatures and finding supplies, families also grappled with keeping children warm and explaining the situation to them.

Koutha kept her son, Pranay, bundled in bed Monday, much to his frustration. His playtime options had already been limited to keep safe during the pandemic. Pranay has faced colder winters before moving to Texas in 2020, but never an outage.

"It was really eye opening of how privileged I am that if he was bored, I could just give him the iPad for him to play a game," she said.

About 45 minutes south of the family, Lydia Bean and her husband layered 8-month-old Mica in a onesie and pajamas as their Arlington home chilled to 48 degrees. The trio coslept to share warmth Monday evening, and Bean spent much of the night checking on Micah. Mornings were spent huddled in front of a gas stove, heating up eggs in a cast-iron skillet and boiling water in a teapot.

"It was pretty scary," Bean recalled.

Waiting for Answers

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Oncor announced Thursday morning they have stopped large blackouts across the state, but rotating outages could continue if the grid runs into more problems. Over 181,000 Oncor customers experienced power outages Thursday afternoon, according to data.

However, more questions than answers remain surrounding the failures that led to the outages, including which areas suffered for extended periods of time and when power will be fully restored.

"I think we obviously need to have a conversation about making sure our infrastructure is well-built and well-maintained and resilient to more extreme weather. We're only going to see more weird weather going forward because of climate change," said Bean, who was a Democratic state representative candidate in November..

Koutha said in an email Thursday afternoon their electricity has gone on and off, and they still have clean water. The experience, she said, has been eye opening of the privileges the family has come to depend on, such as a hot meal and the convenience of ordering food from phones.

While few could have prepared for the wintry blast and partial grid failure, Koutha would have liked to see energy providers such as Oncor, officials and media outlets share more information about places with power.

And, like Bean, she would also like to see some accountability from officials.

"The people who have to be sorry are not being sorry right now, and it's just sad to see that happen," Koutha said.

Resources are available in Fort Worth, Arlington and other parts of North Texas for those without power or clean water.



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