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A volunteer fire department ran out of water during a fire. A man searched 8 hours for food. These are the stories of the Texas storm

As winter storms and freezing temperatures continue to wreak havoc across Texas, many are having to fight for survival.

Hundreds of thousands in the state remained without power on Thursday, trying their best to stay warm and dry as bursted pipes flood homes. Millions who got their lights back on were also dealing with water and other issues.

Here are just some of the struggles some Texans said they are facing during this winter crisis.

Many have no heat

Timothy Wilsey, his wife, Nicole, and their 7-year-old son have been without power for 72 hours.

The family, who reside in Euless, said they use their cars for warmth and to charge battery packs and phones, which Wilsey described as “their only lines of communication.”

Wilsey said the family is only using their phones to quickly look at the news and search for restaurants that may be open and serving food.

The family mostly lays “under covers in bed,” in their apartment, which is only heated by candles, Timothy said.

“We are keeping busy by going old school and reading books and playing board games,” Wilsey told CNN by text message.

In Portland, Texas, Brianna Blake told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday that she and her husband kept their children warm by using household items as firewood, including artwork and fencing, as they dealt with 36 hours of no heat in their home.

“I just started kind of grabbing my canvasses off the wall, and breaking them and throwing them into the fire,” she said.

In Irving, Kimberly Hampton and her family of five initially thought that they would be able to ride out the power outages from their home.

But Hampton said no amount of blankets could keep them warm. The family lost power at 3:30 a.m. Monday, and the home’s thermostat quickly fell to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hampton said she was able to get some wood from Home Depot to start a fire and melt frozen breast milk in room temperature water for her 7-month-old baby and 3-year-old twins.

On Tuesday, when asked how things went overnight, Hampton said it got worse and that it felt colder.

“We’re out of firewood and there is none available anywhere close by,” she told CNN. “My husband is going to have to go buy some formula because all my frozen milk is going bad. My other kids are miserable and don’t understand why it’s cold or why they can’t watch TV or have a warm meal.”

To help with the cold, Hampton said the family has “closed off our bedrooms and stuffed towels in the spaces of the doors and used blankets to cover all our windows the best we can.”

“We have a generator, but ran out of gas for it extremely quick, so gas stations are open nearby. The kids are all bundled up with three layers of clothes, jackets, and shoes. And we have all been basically laying on top of each other sharing body heat.”

In San Antonio, Texas, Claudia and Eder Lemus were fortunate to have their power return Wednesday night, after trying to keep their three young kids warm with a fire, multiple layers of clothes and blankets. They’d even run the burners on the stove, an unconventional way of keeping warm that carries its own risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.

As a military family, Claudia said the family had lived all over the US and even abroad in places with heavy snow.

“We never thought it was going to be like this,” she said. “We’ve lived in Virginia where they have a lot of snow. We’ve lived abroad in Korea where they have a lot of snow and we just — we never anticipated the city to come to such a standstill because of this.”

Angel Garcia and her family in Killeen, Texas, have been rationing oxygen tanks for their 5-month-old son, who was born with premature lungs. Garcia, a nurse, is watching him constantly, she said.

The family lost power to their home Monday night and was running out of wood, so they burned their 3-year-old daughter’s baby blocks in the fireplace, she said.

“A lot of people don’t know the severity of what’s going on. People are tearing down their fences to burn,” Garcia said, between tears. “We started burning my daughter’s little wooden blocks because it was just too cold.”

She says she hopes that people realize how bad the situation is, in a state where people are not accustomed to this type of cold weather.

“Not everyone has gas, but we waited in line about an hour and finally we were able to get some gas,” Garcia said. “There’s pretty much nowhere to go. Everyone in Texas is in the same boat. If they have electricity, there’s no water. If they have water, there’s no electricity.”

In Carrollton, John Mays, Jon Milton Blackburn and their three children had no heat or water in their home since early Monday. To fuel their fireplace, the family resorted to ripping up baseboards to stay warm.

“It was either that, or we were going to go after the dining room table next,” Mays told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday.

After a water pipe burst, the family sought shelter at their church, and expressed gratitude for local leadership providing warming stations.

“If anything, this has been such a wonderful learning lesson for us on how important community is, and how important it is to stay together as a community,” Mays said.

Some have burst pipes and flooded homes

After sliding up a hill in her car to get gas, Yasmin Elsaba returned to her Austin home to find that the pipes in the fire sprinkler system in a third-floor apartment had burst and begun flooding everything on the lower floors, including her apartment.

“I started sobbing when I saw that water was on my bed,” Elsaba said. “I couldn’t stay there anymore; the floors were already saturated so sleeping on the floor wasn’t an option either.”

Elsaba knew she had to leave her apartment, but she was afraid to go to her parents’ home because they’re at high-risk for Covid-19. She decided to take the treacherous 25-minute drive to their home, and offered to stay in the car in their driveway.

“When I arrived they wouldn’t let me stay outside,” she said.

Thomas Black shared an image on social media that went viral, showing icicles hanging from a ceiling fan.

“Lack of preparedness…our infrastructure is just not ready for something like this,” Black told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday when asked how the water got on the fan.

Black has also posted other pictures from his apartment building of flooded hallways, water pouring from ceilings in utility closets, and iced over indoor entryways.

When asked why he decided to post the images on social media, Black said, “I think every Texan’s blood should be boiling that this is even the reality that we’re living in…we’re in a bad situation and it’s getting worse.”

Jesus Cortez and his three roommates were forced out of their college apartment on Tuesday when a sprinkler busted in one of the bedrooms causing the apartment to flood in San Marcos.

The students have been doing a mix of online learning and in-person classes — but with the current weather situation, those classes have been canceled, he said.

“We were walking in a pool of water trying to take out as much possible trying to make sense of what was happening,” Cortez wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

Cortez told CNN on Wednesday that he doesn’t know if they can return to the apartment, “since the roads are icy at the moment.”

Meanwhile, it got so cold inside the home Sandra Erickson rents with her husband in Friendswood, Texas, that she said the pipes burst. As a result, the ceiling in three different rooms collapsed.

“This is like a hurricane catastrophe,” she told CNN.

Others have limited water or food

The Bexar-Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department in the San Antonio-area ran out of water while fighting a large apartment fire Thursday, illustrating how dire the water shortage is in Texas.

Many of the hydrants on the scene are frozen and there is no water, said the department’s chief Jerry Bialick. Crews are having to go down the street to fill their tenders with water.

“Right now, the fire break is working pretty good. Our main concern is water supply,” Bialick said during news conference Thursday. “Once we make a little bit of advance on the fire, we run out of water.”

Residents of the building were evacuated, as well as buildings on both sides. No injuries have been reported at this time, according to Bialick.

Some in Texas have their power back — but are still struggling to find food and clean water.

“We went to multiple H-E-Bs and searched for about six to eight hours Tuesday for food,” Ehren Williamson told CNN by phone from Pflugerville, where there is currently still an advisory in effect to boil water.

Williamson waited in line Thursday for an hour at an H-E-B. Once inside the store, there was no water to be found anywhere.

“We had no warning,” he said. “We were given the impression that it wasn’t going to be bad. I didn’t even see the rolling blackout warnings. It just went dark.”

Had he been warned, he said, he would have stocked up on food, water and a backup generator.

Philip Shelley, a Fort Worth resident, told CNN that his family is also struggling to keep everyone fed.

Shelley said he is trying to keep his pregnant wife, Amber, and his 11-month-old daughter, Ava, warm by keeping them bundled. Amber is due on April 4.

“(Ava) is down to half a can of formula,” Philip said. “Stores are out if not extremely low on food. Most of our food in the refrigerator is spoiled. Freezer food is close to thawed but we have no way to heat it up.”

On Tuesday night, Philip said he had to drive across town to find an open restaurant. This morning, their power flickered on long enough that they were able to cook a meal before it went out, again.

While some are dealing with lack of food, others — like Eder Lemus and his family — are dealing with a lack of water.

“As of now, we are using a neighbor’s faucet to refill a bucket of water to drain our toilets,” Lemus said. “When and if the lights come back on, we try to take showers and refill our drinking water gallons so that we can stay hydrated.”

In Austin, Smita Pande said her husband and their two friends visiting from New York took refuge with another friend because they had no power at their home.

They thought they were in the clear, but then a water main break nearby knocked out the water at the friend’s apartment.

“We didn’t anticipate the water to be shut off, but once it did, we assumed a ‘worst-case scenario’ type of thing and just grabbed snow off the balcony and put into kettles and pots to use for drinking water in case we don’t get water back anytime soon,” Pande said. “If the power outage is any indication of how long that’ll be, then we are going to be boiling snow for a while.”

Right now, she said that everyone has one water bottle, so they shouldn’t need any of the “snow water” for some time. She currently estimates that they have enough food and water to last until Thursday afternoon.

In San Antonio, Brenda Aly said she is using pool water from a neighbor, in addition to snow, to fill their toilet tanks and do dishes after losing water Tuesday.

Aly said they are fortunate to have a gas stove and grill, and have been able to cook food. She estimates they have about two more days worth of rations left.

“Once we go through our bottled water, our only drinking water option will be snow, until our water comes back or the stores are able to open,” Aly said.

Some are facing health concerns

Helen Reed, a pediatric emergency room nurse, is used to taking care of others, but having no power at her home in Robstown, just 18 miles west of Corpus Christ, since Sunday night has made that difficult.

Reed is caring for her 91-year-old mother with dementia and her 23-year-old terminally ill daughter, who has Lennox Gastaut Syndrome in addition to 19 other diagnoses, at home. Her mother hasn’t had a warm meal in days and doesn’t quite understand the situation, Reed said. Her daughter eats through a feeding pump that Reed has had to plug and unplug into a generator in order for it to function.

“Trying to keep the generator going has been nerve-wrecking,” she said. “Trying to keep the two of them from falling (in the dark), trying to manage my (daughter’s) seizures, I can’t even tell you — it’s just compounded stress.”

Every two hours, Reed said she adds gasoline to the generator. With gas in short supply, she said her farmer neighbor gave her a tank of gas he had in his barn and that’s what they’ve been using sparingly and to fuel a small space heater.

“The heater worked well, only sometimes crashing the generator,” she said. “We wore all of everything we own, layers of South Texas beach clothing, not designed for snow and ice.”

Reed keeps a supply of what she calls “hurricane water” inside emptied Clorox bottles for hurricane season but said the family went through that supply quickly.

“I don’t feel like we had any kind of preparation for this,” she said. “Because suddenly, there’s no water, the stores are sold out and now the city is saying there’s no water and it’s like, what do you mean there’s no water?”

“When I went to the store, it’s exactly like the first week of quarantine,” she said.

On Tuesday evening, her daughter stopped breathing twice.

With her medical condition, Reed said she was expecting her to have the type of seizures she did, but to have them happen in the environment they’re living in was unbearable for her.

“You want your child to be in as comfortable of a setting as possible and not in a situation where there is no light, it was cold, it was horrifying, I can’t even convey how stressful it was,” she said. “And that was also the night where the roads were iced over, I don’t even know if we could have gotten an ambulance out here.”

Reed said she has spent hours on the phone trying to get answers and an estimated timeline for restored power but to no avail.

As of Thursday at 4 a.m., Reed said they got power back in their home and are enjoying it while they have it.

“I could see power going on around us,” she said. “Like across the road and it just made no sense.”

Two days ago, the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD) started refilling resident’s oxygen bottles because they were calling 911 after running out and couldn’t get refills from their vendors, Joseph Arrington, SAFD spokesman, told CNN in a statement.

“Currently, we have four SAFD vehicles responding city-wide to provide this service to as many folks as we can, as long as we have supply,” Arrington said. “As of (Wednesday) morning, we have provided this service at least 130 times, with many more waiting in the queue.”

Sylvia Cerda Salinas told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday that she was so desperate after driving her family around in the car during the daytime to stay warm that she looked for hotels in nearby Mexico — but there were no vacancies.

Staying at a shelter or temporary warming station in Texas wouldn’t be an option for the mother of five because three of her kids are diabetic, she said, and one is autistic with a compromised immune system.

“You either go to the shelter to get warm, or you stay home, stay cold, and stay away from the pandemic,” Salinas said.

Nearly two dozen cases of her children’s insulin have spoiled due to the power outages, she said, and her area is expecting another freeze Thursday.

John Henderson, of San Antonio, said his wife, who had a stroke last year, is among those who received a refill from SAFD.

His wife has one large tank that lasts 24 hours and two smaller ones. Fire department officials came by their house twice to refill his wife’s tanks, he said.

Amid the power outages, Henderson said he remains the most concerned about her health. She has been complaining that her throat hurts and having some trouble using portable oxygen tanks, he said.

“She’s got terrible breathing problems obviously,” he said. Without SAFD’s help, Henderson said they would have driven to the ER “even with the roads bad.”

“We’re making due and staying inside waiting on power,” he said. “We count ourselves as blessed nonetheless. There are a lot of folks worse off than us.”

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