‘I was in bed, shaking, not knowing where my next meal was going to come from’: Students spend days without power

Skye Seipp

Editor’s Note: This story contains information about students’ experiences during the winter storm and may be difficult to read. At the bottom of this story, the Texan has linked to resources for students still in need. This story first appeared in The Daily Texan’s Feb. 23 print edition.

 

The power in Sofía Velasco’s Riverside apartment went out on Sunday. She wouldn’t have it again for 68 hours.

As her options for food and warmth dwindled, she ate unboiled ramen and sat in her car to keep warm and charge her phone. She said it was so cold inside her apartment, she could see her breath.

“It kind of got terrifying, thinking about how I’m going to get food, and thinking about having more cold nights,” economics junior Velasco said.

Velasco is one of the thousands of students and Austinites who suffered after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas called for rotating power outages that ended up being not so rotational, as millions of Texans were without electricity for days. As of publication, power is still out for over 15,000 customers in Austin.

In response to the severe winter weather, UT canceled all classes for the week, helped some students find emergency housing and provided other resources for students. But for students in Riverside, University spokesperson J.B. Bird said there wasn’t much the University could do.

On Tuesday evening, Velasco emailed and called Student Emergency Services to get housing and told them she was running out of food. When she finally received a response Wednesday afternoon, she was told that no individual rooms were available, but that she could take advantage of warming centers at the Texas Union and Gregory Gym or throughout the city.

She was also redirected to Jester 2nd Floor Dining and Kinsolving Dining Hall to get food. Later Wednesday evening, she received an email that Student Emergency Services was going to deposit $50 in her bank account for groceries. They said that deposit would take 3-5 days and Velasco said she received a $100 deposit on Monday.

On Wednesday night, Velasco’s power came back on. But after almost a week of not being able to work at her job at H-E-B, Velasco is still worried about the financial fallout the storm could cause.

“I’m worried about how I’m going to pay rent without a week’s paycheck,” Velasco said. “It’s a lot (to deal with).”

Kathy Guerrero, a theatre for youth and communities senior, lost power at her Riverside apartment early on the morning of Feb. 15. Still recovering from a car wreck she had the previous week, Guerrero left the apartment with her sister the night of Feb. 15 to sleep in a UT building. Guerrero said the roads were so bad it took an hour to get to campus.

Guerrero said she wasn’t sure which building she was staying in, but a friend snuck Guerrero and her sister, who’s not a UT student, to sleep in an office-type building. She said the building was open for certain scholars, but she wasn’t one.

“We just hunkered down in one of the computer rooms and locked the door so no one would see us and get mad that we slept there overnight,” Guerrero said.

On Tuesday morning, a staff member found Guerrero and her sister and asked them to leave. Later that day, they were able to secure emergency housing at 2400 Nueces through Student Emergency Services. She left the emergency housing Friday, but said she’s going back to her hometown of Crystal City, Texas, because her heating still isn’t working.

Guerrero said having to carry her clothes around, get food at Kinsolving and seek emergency housing made her feel isolated. She said she broke down in tears after reading emails from professors telling students to have a fun snow day.

“Reading that while I was in bed, shaking, not knowing where my next meal was going to come from or where I was going to lay my head at night,” Guerrero said. “I remember crying because people don’t really know what’s going on over on the other side of Austin and then driving into West Campus and seeing a bunch of people partying and sledding … kind of felt like a kick in the stomach.”

On the morning of Feb. 15, public health freshman Joanne Navales lost power at her West Campus apartment. She said she was still awake when it happened, and the power went off and on every 15 minutes until it finally went off for good.

Navales said she and her three roommates all bundled up and slept together in the living room on Feb. 15 with just a battery-powered string of lights.

She said the temperature in her apartment wasn’t bad at first, but by the time she left Wednesday to travel to her emergency housing, it was 40 degrees inside.

Student Emergency Services placed Navales at 2400 Nueces on Wednesday. Even with housing, Navales said she isn’t in a state of mind to study.

“The situation is somewhat traumatizing,” Navales said. “I’ve never been on my own this much and I just moved to Austin this semester. … I’m barely learning how to take care of myself already, and then the fact that this hit in the middle of a pandemic — in the middle of my first year — it’s kind of shaken me up a bit, and I can’t really focus on school.”