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The Winter Storm of 2021: An Oral History

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By Ruth Ann Ruiz

The Post Newspaper Feature Writer

My belief in human kindness and people helping people was strengthened through the historic winter storm and its aftermath that struck in the early hours of February 15, 2021. 

 Most of the heroism I witnessed was from social media and it was my intention to and write about one of the region’s heroic individuals. Instead, I was asked to write my firsthand account.

 “I did nothing heroic—how would my story be something of value?” I wondered. But I agreed and here it is. 

Valentine’s night, 2021: just before I went to sleep, I drove around Galveston to find the snow that my cell phone app indicated was falling. There was no snow, just some light sprinkles of water.  St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica was beautiful that night!!! 

February 15, 2021: I woke up, it was cold inside my house, a cold I had not felt since I was a child in Michigan. My digital alarm was dark, outside my window everything was covered in white. That feeling which snow can bring was waking up all of my senses of jubilee, innocence, and excitement. But the dark clock had me worried. The power was out, and I had no idea how long it had been out. 

My first instinct was to snap a few photos with my phone. Next, I checked my thermostats. It was 52 upstairs. Downstairs was 45 degrees. 

Three hours later, my power was still out, so I turned to social media for answers Power was out across the entire island. City officials did not know when it would be back on. 

The city advised everyone to stay warm, don’t drive on the iced roads unless needed, and check on the elderly. I followed the suggestion and checked in with some of my more senior friends to see if they were okay.  They each had a warm place. 

What to do with my time? Sit and stew? That would be a waste. I put on several layers of clothing and went outside. Cold snow crunching under my feet, fun, fun, fun. It was just snow, so everything was going to be okay.

That enjoyment lasted about 50 yards until I felt the icy sleet under my feet. I headed home. Sitting inside with no power was not fun, but I had to find a way to see the island covered with snow. So, I drove. 

Returning from sightseeing, the temperature inside was 40 degrees. Still, there was no power and there was no immediate hope of power being restored.  

One of my friends, who I thought might need my help, invited me to camp out on a sofa. My house was dropping into the high 30’s, so I accepted the offer.

I wasn’t concerned with bursting water pipes, because my house had been replumbed with new plumbing in January 2018 after the old ones had burst in the winter storm of December 2017. 

Tuesday: I went home in the afternoon. The temperature inside was below freezing. Everything else looked good. Power came on. I was able to start heating the house. There was something suspicious happening with a bathroom faucet, and suddenly the water that had been frozen in my pipes was free to explode, decorating my ceiling, walls, and floor. 

I lost my sense of what to do. I grabbed a plastic bowl and tried to stop the water. Then I turned off water for the toilet. I reached out to my neighbor Kenny, who had just returned to his house with his family. 

He came to my rescue. He turned off the water under the sink where the valve that I knew existed. Kenny, one of many Galveston heroes who had slept in a freezing home heated only by candles, was there to help me. He inspected all the faucets and found another that might present a problem, so he turned off the main valve. 

Power was again out at my house. I returned to my friend’s sofa where it was warm and safe. City water was shut off late Tuesday. 

Wednesday: The gravity of the situation started to sink in. With no electricity, countless homes and businesses had frozen pipes which had burst which led to cities across the region having water shortages and water pressure decreases which led to water outages. All of it led to human suffering and property loss.

My major problem was staying warm and it was an elderly friend, another Galveston hero, who solved this for me. My minor problem was solved by someone who had no heat.

It is we the people who make our nation, our state, our region, and our cities great. We will continue to be there for each other as we climb out of our places of shelter from this historic winter storm. 

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