Many Vietnamese Texans are struggling to keep themselves warm, hydrated and fed with no power or water in freezing temperatures.
On Thursday, Trinh Nguyen, 31, woke up to another day without power and water in Houston, Texas.
In close to subzero temperatures, the Vietnamese woman and her four-member family used a fireplace to keep themselves warm.
“We did not stock up on firewood, so we have to use it sparingly,” she said, thanking the stars that the weather was getting warmer and they’d had the fireplace as a “winter savior.”
It was the third day that Nguyen’s family had no water, and the second day without pour.
Sharing the family’s plight in varying degrees, from slightly better to much worse, are many of their Vietnamese brethren in the south-central state, which was hit by winter storms that swept across the south and east of the country over the last few days, making pipes freeze and burst. Worse still, the state’s power grid has stopped working.
A woman carries bottled water she received from a warming center and shelter in Galveston, Texas on February 17, 2021. Most residents are without electricity after record-breaking winter temperatures, local media reports say. Photo by Reuters/Adrees Latif.
Lan Bui, 41, has not been able to go to work for the last three days due to the icy and snowy conditions in Texas’s Austin City.
“The outside is like a giant freezer and roads are too slick to drive on,” Bui commented.
In Austin, dozens of crashes have been reported in the last few days, even though local authorities had pre-treated bridges and overpasses in preparation for the icy conditions.
Notably, on February 11, six people were killed in an accident that involved more than 100 vehicles on a Texas interstate.
“Even after we ran out of food, we did not dare to drive to the local Walmart to buy some more,” Bui said.
Those staying inside have struggled to stay warm amid widespread electricity failure caused by freezing natural gas pipelines.
In a 40,000-member Facebook group of Vietnamese living in Houston, many have shared their suffering without electric heaters.
“I have never experienced such coldness in my life. Without the heater, our apartment is like a fridge,” Tran Hoa My wrote on February 16, adding she had to burn some firewood in the yard behind the building to stay warm and cook just once a day.
Texas has experienced some of its coldest temperatures in three decades, with some areas reaching a record low temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius this week.
Afraid for their lives
As of February 18, at least 36 people had died due to the extreme weather conditions in Texas and other states, some of them of carbon monoxide poisoning after they used vehicles or generators to keep warm.
“Will my children and I die if we sleep by the fireplace all night? It is too cold, and we cannot sleep even if we have layers of blankets,” a Vietnamese woman asked the Facebook group on February 17.
Staying warm is not the only thing the residents have to worry about.
Many are worried that pipes can break when the water pressure gets turned back on and this is a problem that cannot be ignored, particularly amidst freezing temperatures.
Since plumbing services may be delayed interminably, My’s husband had to travel to a store and buy some hardware.
“There was a long line of cars waiting for the store to open when he arrived, some people were impatient, fighting and they had to call the police,” she said.
A man walks to his friend’s house in a neighborhood without electricity as snow covers Pflugerville, Texas, February 15, 2021. Photo by Reuters.
With no water, electricity and gas, the Vietnamese Texans have had to figure out different ways to survive.
Ha Nguyen, a Ph.D. student at Harvard University now living with her family in Houston, used bottled water and cooked her meals with a gas camping stove during 37 hours of outages.
“The inside, having no electricity, was as cold as the outside. So we gathered in one room, used all the blankets we have, and wore several layers of clothes before the electricity came back,” said Ha, mother of two children.
For Ha and others in the area, electricity returned on February 18.
But some people have not had that luck. According to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages across the country, as of February 19, more than 290,000 residents remained without power.
Help at hand
As many people desperately look for warmth and other necessities without electricity in freezing temperatures, the Vietnamese diaspora have opened their hearts and home to their brethren.
In Houston, Le Thuy, 36, and her children have been staying with her Vietnamese friend’s family since February 15, when the temperature hit minus 5 degrees.
“I had no idea about the power outage and freezing winter that was coming, so I did not stock up on firewood and food. I am lucky to have my friend’s house to shelter in,” Thuy said.
In many Facebook groups, people having electricity and clean water have invited others to come to their house and stay if they live in a blackout area.
“I have two more rooms on the second floor, please call me if you need a place to stay warm, I will not take your money,” Nguyen Anh Tuyet informed fellow Vietnamese Facebookers in Houston.
Some have offered free food.
“I will cook and give each family two boxes of food tomorrow, please come to pick the food up at my house… I also have milk for children,” Yen Nhi Tran wrote on February 19.
Texans will have to cope with more severe weather as a storm is expected to bring “significant ice accumulations and heavy snowfall,” according to the National Weather Service.
Those who have had their water and power supply restored have prepared for the coming storm by cooking a lot of food, taking a shower, and fixing their pipes.
The utility outages are severe because Texas, the largest energy producer and consumer in the U.S, is the only state to use its own power grid.
“After days without hot water, taking a shower is priority now,” said Trinh after power supply was restored late in the evening on Thursday.
She said she would make boxes of fried rice with eggs for her family to eat in case of a future blackout.
Her husband, meanwhile, went out to buy more firewood and bottled water.