After a devastating winter storm, Texas natives at Northwestern struggle to keep up with classes

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Courtesy of Lila Wu

Freshman Lila Wu’s house in the Houston suburbs during the most recent winter storm. Millions of Texans lost power last week, leaving some Northwestern students living in Texas struggling to keep up with online classes.

Ali McCadden, Reporter

Communication freshman Lila Wu lost internet access for three days during Texas’s winter storm. Her only option besides missing class was to attend on her phone, using her cellular data for Zoom lectures. Although she was eventually able to log onto classes at a neighbor’s house, catching up on her missed lectures and assignments was so stressful that she dropped one of her classes.

“Having no internet and no way to ask for help really highlighted how much I was struggling,” Wu said.

Wu is among the millions of Texans who lost power during the storm that began the night of Feb. 14. Temperatures across the state reached historic lows, with Austin and San Antonio reaching single digits for the first time in over 30 years. At least 32 Texans have died from causes related to the storm, ranging from carbon monoxide poisoning to house fires to hypothermia. The frigid temperatures caused pipes to burst in many areas, leading to complications with water access and sanitation.

Communication freshman Victoria Kim ran out of battery on her devices after her first day without power and had to resort to charging them in her car. She said she struggled to stay motivated and focused while doing her homework by candlelight.

Medill freshman Alice Shao said that a pipe burst at her parents’ house in northern Texas, causing part of the roof to blow out and forcing her parents to turn off their water. Shao, who is currently in Evanston, said being away from home during the crisis was stressful.

“I’m here, I can’t do anything,” Shao said. “I can’t just head home and help out with fixing a roof or help out my friends. It’s just hard when something’s out of your reach.”

Due to the crisis, necessities like bottled water, milk and eggs were out of stock, Kim said. Many areas experienced food shortages, with grocery stores unable to restock fast enough and food spoiling due to the lack of power.

McCormick freshman Chris Woodard, a Houston native, said that some stores sold 24-packs of water bottles for $18 because of the increased demand.

Woodard cited Texas’ infrastructure as a main reason the state wasn’t prepared for the winter storm.

Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants supply the majority of Texas’ power in the winter. Power blackouts occurred from the combination of these sources shutting down, the freezing of wind turbines and gas pipelines, and residents using more heat than usual. To avoid long-term damage, utility companies began scheduling controlled, rolling blackouts.

Gov. Greg Abbott instead blamed the blackouts on solar and wind energy failures. In a segment on Fox News, he said the incident shows how “the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”

While severe winter weather does not occur often in Texas, Woodard said the state government should have been a more vocal source of support and should have enacted more emergency policies.

“Knowing that there’s a mismatched belief system between these urban areas and the Texas government is kind of annoying, especially since it leads to issues like this,” Woodard said.

When temperatures rose dramatically in Texas this week, the power and water crises lessened in some parts of the state. Dallas saw an 83 degree temperature increase between Feb. 16 and Feb. 23.

Still, conditions are not back to normal for all residents. As of Wednesday, over a million Texans are without drinking water, and thousands are faced with the costs of damages from burst pipes.

“A lot of families are going to suffer,” Shao said. “And we’re just going to have to see if the Texas legislature and the state governments are actually going to do something about it.”

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Twitter: @amccadd

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