After below-freezing temperatures knocked out power to their Houston apartment, Jael Sanchez and Randy Castillo began to feel like they were living at the end of the world. With no heat and no working stove, the couple and their 11-year-old daughter hunkered down in a makeshift bedroom fort made from nearly a dozen blankets, and did their best to heat cans of soup over an outdoor grill in the snow. One neighbor lit a trash fire; another used a car to ram open the electronic gates that typically control who can enter and exit the complex.
“Eight hours into Houston not having power, and we were already having an apocalypse here,” Castillo joked shortly before midnight on Tuesday.
By then, the outage at the couple’s home had lasted for close to 24 hours and the temperature outdoors had plummeted to 18 degrees. Inside wasn’t much warmer, Castillo guessed, since he and his family could see their breath. And it would only get colder before morning came.
Still, the couple emphasized, they were lucky to have camping gear like headlamps and portable cellphone chargers to help them get through one of the region’s coldest nights on record. Many others in Houston – and across the central United States – found themselves literally in the dark, cut off from the outside world as they hunkered down in poorly-insulated homes that weren’t designed for such extreme weather. As of late Monday night, more than 4 million households in Texas alone lacked power due to a catastrophic set of circumstances that hobbled the state’s power grid, and those attempting to seek shelter elsewhere faced both dangerous road conditions and potential exposure to the coronavirus.
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