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Sifting Through the Aftermath

Only one week ago, The Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, Texas distributed thousands of meals and food packages to those in need, creating a post-apocalyptic line of cars that stretched for five miles down the Texas turnpike.

Besides the obvious dangers of hypothermia, lack of access to medical care and mental perplexion brought on by a power outage in a weeklong winter weather event, Texans were made brutally aware of the even deadlier cocktail of starvation and dehydration that can also result from a state-wide utility emergency. According to experts who have poured over mortality data, up to or over 100 Texans perished during last week’s storm, and that number of human lives lost will undoubtedly grow as state and federal efforts to quantify the true extent of the damage come to fruition. All told, the financial cost is likely to be in the tens of billions of dollars and will require funding by insurance companies, governmental entities and the general public. As we rebuild, it will be key to understand the split that each of these entities will be responsible to bear. Due to this weather-induced catastrophe, Texas utility customers are starting to receive bills of $1,000 or greater, an amount which is more than many Americans have in their personal emergency savings.

Thankfully, the Central Texas Food Bank event and others highlighted the many aid efforts undertaken by local philanthropic organizations as the snow began to melt here in Austin. Legendary University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was on campus at his alma mater handing out meals to college students who had previously sustained themselves on CLIF Bars and beef jerky during the utility crisis. This week, Austin residents finally could drink their water without operating under a boil water notice, and it seems there can be some semblance of normal life.

Without access to power or water, many Texans resorted to a MacGyver-style approach to meet basic sanitation and survival needs. Apparently, snow will suffice when added into the bowl of a toilet; pool water can be used in similar fashion. Fireplaces have been the only source of heat for those fortunate enough to have them. I have been amazed by my friend’s resourcefulness delivered in Technicolor video via Facebook and Instagram.

When I finally made it to the grocery store last weekend (and I visited multiple establishments across my area), the shelves were empty. In particular, bread, produce, eggs, milk, pasta, frozen dinners, water and rice were practically non-existent. Stores have finally become stocked again.

My earlier visits were a reminder of the fact that we are still recovering as a community, which has been exposed to be both fragile and resilient at the same time. Will we forget this harrowing event ultimately and go back to our normal lives? Or will this event, coupled with the pandemic, help to induce a mindset more focused on energy conservation, wellness and the greater good? Was the weather-forced quarantine not a microcosm of the entire last year’s pandemic macrocosm?

Still Feeling Thankful,

Austin in Austin, Texas

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