An unprecedented winter storm and unprepared electrical grid has left millions of Texans without reliable power and water and has killed at least 20 people since Monday. Rolling blackouts stretched into days, with more than 400,000 households still without power Feb. 18 as another storm looms Thursday.
The incoming storm is expected to have devastating effects, particularly in counties southwest of San Antonio where COVID-19 cases are already spreading significantly. About seven million people were told to boil water or stop using it entirely as pipes and water mains burst in the frigid temperatures.
Texas is the only state in the lower 48 with its own power grid, and it provides electricity to the vast majority of Texans, excluding El Paso, the upper panhandle and part of East Texas. It's run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and operates outside of the Federal Energy Regulatory Council's jurisdiction. The council announced Tuesday that it opened a joint-inquiry with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation into the ERCOT grid's failure
Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers have blamed renewable energy for the blackouts, but the Houston Chronicle found that the grid failed because Texas electricity generators did not want to cut profits by building resilient equipment.
Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 are similarly vulnerable to succumbing to the freeze, including the elderly, people experiencing homelessness, people with lower incomes and people of color. Colonias, Latino communities near the southern border, are especially vulnerable as many households already did not have access to reliable energy, water and housing.
To stay warm without power, experts recommend people unplug any nonessential appliances, wear thin warm layers, and use duct tape to insulate windows and drafts. They caution people not to sit in a running car inside a closed garage or use a generator within 30 feet of a wall to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
With millions without reliable electricity, heat and water in frigid temperatures, local organizing groups and nonprofits across the state are working to help those who need it most. Mutual aid organizations, groups formed by community members to support one another, are also collecting money through Venmo.
Here's how you can help:
- The Urban League in Austin started the #LoveThyNeighborTX campaign to raise money for hotel rooms, food, water, clothing and other basic needs of people with housing insecurity.
- Americares is preparing emergency shipments of bottled water, medicine and relief supplies for Texas families and local health centers affected by the severe winter weather and has offered assistance to over 110 health facilities in the state. Donate to their disaster relief fund to support their efforts.
- Crowdsource Rescue usually aids the Houston-area in hurricane response, but is pivoting its mission to deliver food and supplies to households and to transport vulnerable people to warming centers.
- Mutual aid groups across the state are transporting vulnerable people to warming centers and delivering food and supplies. Donate via Venmo @feedthepeopledallas to help Dallas, @austinmutualaid or @austinmutualaidhotels to help Austin, and @pmgmutualaid or @trinitymutualaid to help San Antonio. Check with each group's social media pages for their needs before donating.
- Austin Pets Alive! is working to keep pets across Texas warm and safe during the freezing conditions. The group says it needs heating pads, Styrofoam coolers, dog beds, heat lamps and monetary donations.
- Free Lunch is delivering home-cooked meals, blankets, hand warmers and hygiene kits to residents of the Esperanza Community, a state-sanctioned shelter/campsite in the city.
- Save the Children is collecting donations to help provide essentials to affected families and provide support and recovery to early learning centers.
- LUPE is delivering gift cards for hot meals to Texans living in colonias, neighborhoods near the southern border with already substandard housing and infrastructure.
- Austin Street Center, OurCalling, The Stewpot, Union Gospel Mission and Oak Lawn United Methodist Church are pooling funds to help pay for temporary shelter and Covid-19 rapid tests in the Dallas-area.
- The Red Cross is supporting at least 35 warming centers with cots and blankets across the state.
- The Salvation Army provides shelter, food and other necessary items to those in need throughout Texas.
Note: We verified organizations to the best of our ability. If you aren't sure about the legitimacy of a charitable organization, visit Charity Navigator.