Photo courtesy of Reuters.
By Terrance Turner
Feb. 18, 2021
On Monday, a historic winter storm blanketed the state of Texas. A mix of rain, snow and sleet fell on the ground in Texas as temperatures reached historic lows. By Tuesday morning, the temperature was 9 degrees, as opposed to the normal low of 47 degrees. Texas had 4.3 million power outages that morning — more than any other state, according to ABC 13. (By 12:15 pm Tuesday, 4.5 million Texans — 35% of state residents — had lost power, according to the New York Times.)
The extreme weather disrupted water service for more than 12 million residents, per MSN, forcing many of the more than 680 water systems in Texas to issue boil water notices. Pipes began to burst, flooding the homes of Texas residents. That further exacerbated the situation for Texans, already without wifi, lights or heating. Without power or heat, some Texans posted videos on social media of them burning old furniture to stay warm. Others shared images of flooding caused by burst pipes and collapsed ceilings.
The New York Times revealed that burst pipes even extended to a Dallas domestic violence center. “The power had been out for two days when the waterlogged ceiling caved in at the Family Place, a domestic violence shelter in Dallas, unleashing a freezing waterfall onto the 120 women and children seeking refuge there on Tuesday,” the Times reported. The clothes of vulnerable women and children were soaked, their important legal documents ruined.
“They lost basically everything,” said Shelbi Driver, a resident advocate at the shelter. The Times added that three other shelters in the area had to be evacuated due to burst pipes. Here in Houston, pipe-bursting cold was a problem for residents, too. I know this problem all too well.
On Tuesday morning, I noticed dripping water coming from a light fixture in my laundry room. The dripping rapidly intensified into a heavy downpour. Though I tried to absorb the water by placing laundry baskets under the leak, the leak became a deluge. Within minutes, the roof had collapsed, destroying the layers of sheet rock that used to be my roof.
While water flooded the homes of Texas residents, the drinking water remained unsafe to drink or even cook with. According to the Associated Press, “Texas officials ordered 7 million people — one-quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking the water, after days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.”
While his city froze, Texas Senator Ted Cruz hopped on a flight to Cancun.
Sen. Cruz flew to Cancun, Mexico for a family vacation on Wednesday, as thousands of his constituents were literally freezing in their homes. Photos emerged of Cruz at Bush Intercontinental Airport (which canceled flights earlier this week, due to ice on the roads. The airport was also under a boil water notice, per ABC 13). Then cameras caught him on board a flight to Mexico. (The CDC has advised that individuals “should avoid all travel to Mexico” due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Yet there Cruz was, on a flight to Mexico. His staff reached out to the Houston Police Department to confirm the senator’s arrival at the airport, according to HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva. She said that the officers were present to “monitor” Cruz’s movements as he prepared to fly away. (By the time pictures of Cruz surfaced on Wednesday night, blackouts in Texas had affected 1.8 million customers Wednesday night, according to tracking website poweroutage.us. That number was down to just over 511,000 as of 11:28 a.m. local time, the site said.)
In Houston, more than 1 million people remained without power Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that service would not be restored fully for another couple of days. The city has been under a boil water notice since Wednesday morning. It is not clear whether Cruz knew (or cared) about any of this when he jet-setted to Cancun.
As Microsoft News noted, “Mr. Cruz had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see 100 or more deaths this week. ‘So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids,’ he said. More recently, in December, Mr. Cruz had attacked a Democrat, Mayor Stephen Adler of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo while telling constituents to “stay home” during the pandemic.
“Hypocrites,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Complete and utter hypocrites.”
As one might expect, Cruz’s actions were met with opprobrium:
Sen. Cruz issued a statement in response to the reports, claiming that he took the trip per a request from his daughters. The statement reads, in part:
With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe.Sen. Ted Cruz
UPDATE (4:11 pm): Sen. Cruz has now returned to Houston. He was spotted in Bush IAH just minutes ago:
Meanwhile, part of Texas is still under a boil water notice. ABC reporter Steve Campion noted that it is not safe to drink, eat with or cook with the water at this point. The Houston Chronicle noted: “A boil water notice is still in effect for the city of Houston, which means that all water consumed by residents and pets should be boiled to kill potential bacteria. This includes water used for cooking, brushing your teeth, preparing baby formula, preparing food or given to pets for drinking. Even water used for hot beverages, like coffee made with a coffee maker, should be boiled beforehand. It’s also a good idea to throw away any ice that may have been contaminated.”
The Chronicle added: “Once boil water notices are lifted, flush home plumbing systems by running cold water through all faucets for at least five minutes. Residents should also flush out all appliances connected to the water line, such as refrigerators and dishwaters.”
According to the New York Times, the boil water notices aren’t just limited to Houston. “About 13 million Texans remain under a boil-water advisory, and 797 water providers are reporting problems, Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said at a news briefing on Thursday.” The Times added that the state capital of Austin is also under a “boil water” notice.
Houston and Galveston remain under a “hard freeze” warning from midnight through 9 am on Friday. Lows are broadcast in the mid-20s for at least the next two days, KTRK says.
At least 25 deaths have been attributed to the storm. 11 of the victims were from Texas, according to CBS News. Widespread outages left over 3 million without power this week, although most had been restored. More than 500,000 residents were still without power as of Thursday afternoon. As the sun goes down and the struggles continue, Cruz tried to do damage control today with some inelegant spin.
“I certainly regret that this has become a distraction,” Cruz said today, about a distraction that he created. “I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane.” He stressed that “leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn’t feel right,” which prompted his return to Houston today.
In his statement issued earlier today, Cruz said his daughters wanted to take a trip; he said he and his wife flew to Cancun, dropped them off, and flew back to Texas. In an interview with KTRK, he admitted that he had, in fact, planned to stay through the weekend. Beyond that obvious contradiction lay a seamy report. Cruz said his intention wasn’t to abandon constituents: “My intention was to take care of my family,” he insisted. But that explanation rang especially hollow after some bombshell reporting by the Times.
“Text messages sent from Ms. Cruz to friends and Houston neighbors on Wednesday revealed a hastily planned trip. Their house was ‘FREEZING,’ as Ms. Cruz put it — and she proposed a getaway until Sunday,” wrote Times reporters Shane Goldmacher and Nicholas Fandos. “Ms. Cruz invited others to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún, where they had stayed ‘many times,’ noting the room price this week ($309 per night) and its good security. The text messages were provided to The New York Times and confirmed by a second person on the thread, who declined to be identified because of the private nature of the texts.”
Goldmacher appeared on CNN’s AC360 to detail the report further. He claimed that Mrs. Cruz’s texts did not mention their daughters’ wishes. “This is a multilayered issue for Ted Cruz,” Goldmacher said, noting the obvious issue with Cruz leaving in the middle of this crisis in Texas and the additional issue that we are still in a pandemic. He echoed Cooper’s sentiment about the CDC’s warning against travel to Mexico.
UPDATE (Feb, 19, 2021): There are now 22 confirmed deaths from the winter storm in Texas. One of them was a local Vietnam War vet with COPD. He relied on an electric oxygen tank to live. But the lack of electricity — then a water main break — led to Mr. Anderson going to his truck in search of power. He died from hypothermia. “He’s gonna be missed terribly,” sobbed his widow in an interview with KTRK.
UPDATE (Feb. 26): While President Joe Biden is heading to Houston to survey the damage, Ted Cruz is in Orlando, Florida, speaking at the CPAC conference. Cruz made light of his trip to Cancun before the crowd. “I gotta say, Orlando is awesome. It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice,” Cruz quipped in his speech, titled “Bill of Rights, Liberty, and Cancel Culture.”
Cruz also criticized physicians who recommend mask-wearing: “This is just dumb,” Cruz said, downplaying the importance of wearing a mask to curtail the spread of COVID-19. “We’re gonna wear masks for the next 300 years. And by the way, not just one mask—two, three, four—you can’t have too many masks! How much virtue do you wanna signal?”
As if that weren’t enough, Cruz also took aim at Black Lives Matter, a favorite target of conservatives: “In Houston where I live, I have to tell you: there weren’t any rioters because let’s be very clear, if there had been, they would discover what the state of Texas thinks about the 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz appeared not to remember the 60,000 protesters who gathered in Houston (peacefully) to march for George Floyd.
He also conveniently forgot to mention that 93% of Black Lives Matter demonstrations were peaceful — yet Black people were still assailed as “violent thugs” on the right and met with tear gas and hand-to-hand combat by police officers. A report by the Armed Conflict Location and Data Project found that police “disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations.” That seems not to matter to Cruz or Rand Paul or Jim Jordan — all of whom took special care to cast aspersions on Black Lives Matter during (and after) the impeachment trial.