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Princeton students from Texas rattled by snowstorm, blackouts

<h5>Ice cut through the kitchen ceiling of one Princeton student’s family friend’s house.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Grace Ni ’23</h6>
Ice cut through the kitchen ceiling of one Princeton student’s family friend’s house.
Courtesy of Grace Ni ’23

In the aftermath of severe winter weather that swept the nation and revealed fatal consequences of Texas’s energy infrastructure, University students on and off campus felt the chill that overwhelmed their home state.

Of the 188 active undergraduate students with permanent addresses in Texas, 49 students — just over 25 percent — are living there this semester, according to Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss. Those who spoke to The Daily Princetonian lost electricity, running water, or both for at least 24 hours, and for as long as five days.

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For Grace Ni ’23 from Houston, the storm briefly left her family without immediate access to food and made remote classes impossible for over 48 hours.

“The first night, we thought the power would just come back,” Ni told the ‘Prince.’ “We really weren’t going into this with the mindset that this would last.”

Prior to the storm, Ni anticipated some connectivity issues and reached out to her professors, who “were all very nice about it.” In one case, a professor even offered to make an exception and record his lecture for her.

“As the days continued and I realized I still wouldn’t have power, I sent emails to my professors on my phone,” Ni said. “They all told me, ‘Hey, just stay warm, stay safe, and do not worry about being behind or not.’”

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Nafisa Ahmed ’22 — a resident of the greater Houston area — was grateful that she never lost electricity, but discussed the toll of water scarcity on her mental health and well-being.

“I had WiFi the entire time, but my water went out right when things started getting bad,” Ahmed explained. “That was really hard for me to do because we couldn’t even leave to get water bottles. This was the first time in my life that I couldn’t really use the toilet, shower, brush my teeth, or do the dishes.”

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“When you can’t do basic functions, it’s really depressing,” she added.

A thin layer of snow and ice covers the ground after unusual weather in Texas.
Courtesy of Nafisa Ahmed ’22

But even for Texans living on campus, the impact and uncertainty of the storm left many distressed for their families’ well-being.

Although Kesavan Srivilliputhur ’23 has been residing in Forbes College for the spring semester, the storm further separated his family, stranding his mother in Oklahoma City, Okla. and leaving his father alone in their home in Denton, Texas.

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“My mom went up [to Oklahoma City] right before the storm started to hit,” Srivilliputhur explained. “She was basically stuck there, so they were both dealing with it on their own.”

Soon it became clear that the situation had escalated far beyond his family’s expectations.

“My parents would never really tell me if they were facing hardships because that’s just the way they are, but they definitely called me more often,” Srivilliputhur said. “One morning, I woke up and was feeling really worried, just thinking, ‘What if I don’t see my parents again because something happens?’”

Anna Glowski ’23, whose family lives in Flower Mound, Texas, expressed the most concern for her brother living in Denton near the University of North Texas campus.

“My brother’s apartment was on the ‘boil water’ notice, and his water eventually got shut off,” Glowski said. “From Monday night to Friday, he had no running water, had rolling blackouts … and had [no cellular service], so we didn’t really hear from him for a week.”

Luckily, because Glowski’s parents live near a fire station, they only experienced brief blackouts, so she “didn’t hear much about the storm affecting them.”

Related: What happened in Texas? Prof. Jesse Jenkins explains

In light of the blackouts, Texas politicians have been under fire, including Sen. Ted Cruz ’92 (R-Texas), who left for a vacation in Cancun, Mexico, after losing power in his own home. Cruz did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication, though he defended the move in a previous statement.

People also placed blame on The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) during the crisis for a near-complete blackout of the state’s electric grid. Following the controversy, five ERCOT members resigned.

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