Cristian Pavón Pineda was found dead under a pile of blankets inside his family’s unheated motorhome in Conroe, Texas last Tuesday. Photo / GoFundMe
Americans are reacting with outrage after extreme weather in Texas left dozens dead and others facing crippling power bills just to stay alive.
The latest disaster to hit the troubled nation came in the form of a horror winter storm, which covered normally balmy Texas in snow last week and knocked out power for millions of residents.
The unprecedented weather also caused chaos across several other southern states.
At least 70 people died as a direct result of the freezing temperatures, lack of heating and wild weather, with 11-year-old Cristian Pavón Pineda emerging as the tragic face of the catastrophe.
The child was found dead under a pile of blankets inside his family’s unheated motorhome in Conroe, Texas last Tuesday.
The boy had been playing in the snow the day before his death, before being struck down with suspected hypothermia.
A GoFundMe page has so far raised more than $121,000 for the shattered family, who are originally from Honduras, and provided further details of their horrifying loss.
“Due to low temperatures seen in the Conroe area, this family went without electricity for two days. The early morning of 16 February dropped to 12 degrees (-11C),” a statement on the GoFundMe page read.
“Cristian was found lifeless. We are trying to raise funds to be able to transfer the body to Honduras.
“His wish was to see his grandparents again and that is what the mother wants to fulfil, please help with whatever you can in order to hopefully be able to achieve this, God bless you.”
Cristian’s mother Maria Elisa Pineda has now launched legal action against two Texan power providers, alleging her son would still be alive if residents were made aware of ongoing outages and that the companies failed to protect the local power grid.
She plans to sue the Entergy Corporation provider and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) for US$100 million.
“Despite having knowledge of the dire weather forecast for at least a week in advance, and the knowledge that the system was not prepared for more than a decade, Ercot and Entergy failed to take any pre-emptory action that could have averted the crisis and were wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis at hand,” the lawsuit alleges, according to the BBC.
But sadly, Cristian is just one of many victims of the weather event and America’s inadequate response to the disaster, with scores of other lives also claimed by hypothermia and exposure as well as carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, car crashes and other events linked to the storm.
Meanwhile, many survivors have also come forward with claims of skyrocketing power bills in the wake of the cold snap, which saw frantic shoppers strip supermarket shelves bare of supplies.
One of those is DeAndré Upshaw, a 33-year-old Dallas resident who was slapped with a staggering US$5717.90 ($7806.39) bill “for less than one week of electricity”.
He is just one of countless Texans who criticised power companies on social media as the crisis unfolds.
“We’ve had our AC at 64 degrees (17.7C), been dealing with intermittent loss of power, and have been conserving energy the past week, (literally I’m wearing three layers of clothing, a beanie and gloves typing this in my living room) yet SOMEHOW our usage is 4x as much as the previous month, and being billed at like 90x the cost,” he posted on Facebook over the weekend.
“Why is America so broken? We feel blessed to even have electricity when others don’t, but I’m unemployed … we’re still in the middle of a PANDEMIC, and hell (Texas) has literally frozen over and these people are trying to get $6000 from us for having the audacity to heat our home during literal 0 degree temperatures.”
Another Texan, 63-year-old Scott Willoughby, has also come forward after having his savings wiped out by a US$16,752 ($22,863.11) power bill, a figure 70 times the usual fee.
“My savings are gone,” the army vet told The New York Times.
“There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
The debacle has sparked fury from Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has demanded the state of Texas cover the bills of residents of his city, claiming the state system let the population down.
He told CBS News he had previously raised the need to ensure an “adequate reserve” to prevent power outages, but that his plea was ignored.
“All of this was foreseeable. I wrote about it in 2011. And so for these exorbitant costs, it’s not the consumers who should assume those costs,” he said.
“They are not at fault for what happened this week.”
His claims have been echoed by several other Texan leaders, and criticism is also mounting after US Senator Ted Cruz fled his home state of Texas in the midst of the crisis for a holiday in Cancun, Mexico.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas, meaning federal cash will be able to be used in the relief effort – although for many, it will be too little, too late.