When a massive winter storm hit Texas, Karen Christensen was happy to still have her winter clothes more than two decades after leaving Canada.
“I think this storm is pretty much overtaking anything I’ve seen at home,” she said.
The Canadian expatriate grew up in Fredericton before moving to the United States in 1999 to work as a nurse.
Even though her time in New Brunswick left her better prepared than others, the impact was still a surprise.
A rare explosion of snow and ice overflowed the electricity grid last week, leaving several million Texans without power or heat. The cold snap plunged temperatures in some cases down to -20 C.
Christensen lives in Georgetown, about 30 minutes north of Austin. She spent nearly five days without electricity in her apartment, before he returned on Friday morning.
She has been without running water since Wednesday and lives with friends.
“People don’t own shovels, so it’s a real mess here,” she said.
“It literally shut down Austin and the surrounding cities, I’m going to say more than even COVID.”
The cold temperatures caused the water pipes to burst and caused a shortage of drinking water across the Lone Star State. Authorities also issued a boil water advisory because low pressure could have allowed bacteria to enter the system.
“Abandoned cars everywhere”
Snowfall and freezing rain swept through most of Texas for a week, halting road traffic and shutting down businesses.
Without a snow plow, the roads were difficult for people with little or no winter driving experience to navigate.
People don’t own shovels, so it’s a real chaos here.– Karen Christensen
Texans came out in sneakers and sweatshirts, as most didn’t have winter coats or boots.
Christensen prepared for the weather by buying water, filling her tub and gathering supplies. But she said most of her friends and neighbors weren’t ready for days without electricity and sidewalks, parking lots and ice-covered roads.
“There are abandoned cars all over the side of the road, the transport trucks are just stranded because people ran out of gas at the gas station,” she said.
The cold snap is unexpected for Texas, where February temperatures are typically well above freezing.
“I don’t think a lot of people heeded the warning we received and prepared for this,” Christensen said.
“They’ve never had snowfall like this or ice like no one else has.”
Christensen, a trauma nurse, works at two local hospitals.
She spent three nights sleeping in the hospital between shifts, along with about 50 of her co-workers. The dangerous conditions made it too difficult to return home and return to work.
More patients have been admitted to the trauma center in response to the storm, suffering from hypothermia and fractures from falling on the ice.
Christensen said Saturday was the first time in about a week that most businesses in the Austin area would reopen. But grocery store and drugstore shelves are empty as food supplies remain low.
The snowy town reminds her of her home, although the devastating impact is unlike anything she has ever seen before. Bridges, viaducts and roads with a hill were completely blocked from traffic
Texans help each other by distributing blankets and supplies. Some restaurants distribute meals.
Temperatures are heating up across the state and electricity is back on. But Christensen said it could be several days before she had water in the house again.
“I probably resisted it better than most, just because I had the experience of living in Canada,” she said. “But it’s still a whole new ball game.”