Happy Scribe Logo


Proofread by 1 reader

What is happening? I'm Shane O'Neill from the Video Features team at The New York Times. And every day, every journalist at The Times is looking for the answer to that question. So what are we finding? We're finding out the trees are talking to each other. We're finding out about a new administration's intentions. We're finding out what's for dinner in the Arctic.


We're finding out how to live on a hotter planet. New York Times journalism helps us navigate this moment. If you'd like to become a subscriber, you can go to NY Times dot com slash. Subscribe from The New York Times. I'm Michael Barbaro.


This is a daily. Today, as the cold lifted and the ice melted, the true depth of the devastation emerged in Texas.


My colleague Jack Healy documented the experience of three women in Dallas.


It's Monday, March 1st. Jack, you went to Texas just a few days after this crippling winter storm and these mass power outages began in mid-February. So tell us about what you saw. Well, the first thing that I saw was a sort of patchwork quilt of light and darkness. As the flight into Dallas broke through the clouds, about a third of the city was still without power. And as I drove around and talked to people, I was getting the sense that there was this real invisible crisis taking shape.


You know, I've covered hurricanes in Texas and I've covered other natural disasters over the years. And often you see people's houses that are flooded with water. You see houses that are burned down and a tornado destroys homes, that sort of thing. But the wounds that families had suffered across the state were a lot less visible this time. And I really wanted to try to understand that damage. And so I started talking to people and working class parts of Dallas and I met three women whose stories really exemplified the hidden heard lingering across Texas.


So tell me about the first of these when you think about it or my real name, the same kind of thing.


But I go by Iris, Iris, whatever you prefer.


Her name is Iris Cantu, and she lives on the south side of Dallas. And she was born in Mexico and came to the United States when she was 15. But when she was 18, her father died. And it was a family tragedy that forced her and her sisters to go to work. And Iris is 45 and has been basically working nonstop. Right now, she's a nanny. And every day she gets up at six thirty in the morning and she drives across town to take care of the child of a wealthy or a couple in a nicer neighborhood.


Have you liked living here? Yes.


Yes, I wanted to have a house. Like I say, there's nothing like go to your house and, you know, like after a hard work day. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I always think you want to have your own spot. Yeah. Well, you know, like me working for a lot of families being in this humongous houses and rich people, you know, but you still want to go to your own spot. Yeah.


So for Iris buying a little single story house on the south side of Dallas was the culmination of years of work and a dream. It cost her eighty two thousand dollars at the time back in 2003. And it has meant everything to her.


It seems like the floors are OK. No. Oh, no. And right inside the foyer in the living room, there was a big hole in the ceiling where the ceiling had collapsed from the burst pipes.


Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Unbelievable.


That's all of the insulation. Everything. Just the roof.


So I panic. I mean, I panic because of her. What's her name? Samira. Hi, Samira. Hello.


So she lives there with her three year old daughter, Samira. And Iris sort of watch me around where else? The water had started to infiltrate her home and right above the hot water heater in the garage, the ceiling was turning this kind of nasty sort of swamp sewer. Brown and Iris was worried that as she continued to use the water, to cook, to bathe, to give Sumara baths and stuff like that, that it was just going to exacerbate the problem and that she was sort of living on borrowed time before, you know, another part of the house caved in.


Is this house you're walking around feeling inhabitable. It sounds like she's still living there. She's still living there. And they were making it work. They had basically decided to live in the habitable half of the house, their bedrooms and and a corner of the living room sort of far away from the gaping hole. But Iris is concerned because her daughter Samira has asthma. And after the ceiling caved in, she was worried because she had started to notice some coughs and things like that.


But the problem for Iris now is that money was already tight. And this damage, which her homeowner's insurance company says they're not going to cover, is going to probably end up costing between six and seven thousand dollars. And that's money that she and a lot of working folks around Texas don't have just lying around.


Do you feel safe in the house right now? Now, with that room in there, like you see the house here? I don't know what to do, but we kind of stay in that room, you know, try to stay away from here. Yeah.


Yeah, it's really compounded. An incredibly difficult year for IRS, which started when she got sick with Coronavirus back in June. She also had coronavirus, yeah. Yeah.


Eiris and one of her sisters lived close to each other and her sister's family got it. And then Iris got it. And she was laid up in bed for a couple of weeks. She didn't have to go to the hospital. She's OK now, but it really walloped her and it also hurt her financially because that was two weeks that she wasn't able to work or earn money.


Mm hmm. So first covid and then this unbelievable storm. Yeah. And her home is now damaged and she doesn't have the money to make the repairs. Yeah.


All right. Well, thank you so that I can think that way. Yes. Yes, yes. OK, so just tell me about the second woman that you spend time with in Dallas.


Her name is Suzanne Mitchell. She's 37. She has three kids. And she had been a home health aide before the pandemic. But since covid got so bad around Texas, she said she had decided to stop working because she was too concerned about potential health consequences.


This is the first time I've been back since the fall of it. I took the chance from here. Yes, they with me. Am I here for more?


I met her at the Lakeview Townhomes, which is a public housing complex run by the Dallas Housing Authority. And when I went there, Suzanne and her mother had gone back to see what remained of their stuff after their kitchen ceiling opened up.


The floor is still wet from when the pipes burst a couple of days ago. Furniture has gotten wet. There is a TV sitting on the floor that just managed to escape, getting totally destroyed by the water. And there is a gigantic gaping hole in the kitchen ceiling from where everything poured out a couple of days ago. And as I am sitting down on the couch with Suzanne and her mom to start talking about everything they've been through for the past couple of days, the pipes start to gush again.


Oh, my gosh. This house is reflooding is reported as as you were standing there talking to them about the first foot. Yeah, great. If you want to talk back there, you can go through the water to start splashing all over Suzanne and her mom. It's basically turning the place into a gigantic shower. Is there any damage up here? OK. And so to avoid getting soaked, we headed upstairs to the bedroom of Suzanne's daughter sanatoria, which luckily had escaped flood damage.


And that's where we did the rest of the interview.


So what kind of mood are Suzanne and her mother in upstairs in this bedroom, given everything that has happened and is just now happening to them?


Exhausted, a little defeated. It had been a really hard year for this family. Suzanne's mom got covid. You know, Suzanne had left her job because of her concerns about it. And her daughter, Santería, who's 15, whose bedroom we were all sitting in, you know, with school shirts pinned to the wall and cheerleading placards and everything on the walls of her room. Sanitoria had had a really hard time over the past year as school went remote and she spent three days a week sitting behind a computer with classes, which is a really hard look about how my kids like straight A's and B's doing.


Yeah, how great they really feel since the people I know now, she gave Phoebe's barely pass and where she got, you know, taken off the cheerleader team because her grades don't drop.


And, you know, it had just really taken a toll on her emotionally and psychically. And the kicker to all of this is that the laptop that Santería had been using to attend classes recently got destroyed in the floods. And Suzanne's big question was how and when are we going to get this laptop replaced and what's going to happen next with my daughter's schooling?


Not to mention the water gushing from the ceiling of her home.


Yeah, exactly. I mean, the family had been living at Suzanne's mom's apartment for the past couple of days, but they were sleeping on air mattresses and couches, you know, kind of putting kids at right angles with each other to to try to make more room.


And it was really starting to to get stressful and a real break, you know, like I have been to eat, you know. Yes. And now that the place is being like you. It's really you know, it is my place for me and my kids life, the clothes that I can be replaced, but here my life you have here Iraqi boy school, you know, at school.


Yeah, I know. And, Jack, what were you thinking as you left Suzanne's apartment? I guess I was thinking about how precious home it's become during this pandemic. You know, to so many of us, our houses are the places that are kind of our castles. There are refuges against this disease that can find us anywhere. And for these people who had spent so much money saving up to buy their houses or who had spent years on a wait list, you know, to get a nice town home in a public complex, to be put out of their homes, not only dislocated them, but it also made them all the more vulnerable to this virus that is haunting us at every corner.


And I think that just compounded the sense of loss and in the sense of dislocation and uncertainty of what comes next.


If I at this moment, there is no help. If I I'm not getting the word out until I get that feeling. But we just like, really frustrated. I'm just really to be tired of. Upworthy is the world's largest remote talent platform, devs, designers, writers, strategists, you name it, find, hire and pay all in one place. Whatever skills your scope demands up work is how need to find coders outside your area code and SEO specialist for six weeks or a UI designer through December pro's available short or long term one time or as often as you need them.


And they're proven, rated and reviewed when you need in demand. Talent on demand up work is how. Is it OK if I record this just OK, so Jack, tell me about the third woman that you spend time with in Dallas.


My name is The Money We use Dallas Money Tango Uniform, my Alfa Indigo.


Well, her name is Tamani.


Chris, were you in the military? No. How did you learn the language of that? I feel like grade school, middle school and high school. Oh, OK.


And I didn't meet her at home or flooded out apartment. I met her in seat 52 of a charter bus that had been parked by a recreation center as an emergency warming shelter for families displaced by the outages and the storm.


So she's living on a bus.


Yeah, because remember, Michael, the power was so unreliable at the places we would normally use as shelters like churches or rec centers or things like that, that in order to get to people in need in neighborhoods across Dallas, they just sent out buses. And so for a couple of nights, as many as 20 people or 30 people had been sleeping on this bus. And it was Timony and her three boys, you know, their boy in the game.


And they like basketball and they liked video.


They are this incredibly close, tight knit family. And for Tamani, her boys are everything. They are the reason that she works three jobs. They are the reason that she is saving up every dollar she can to try to get enough money together for a down payment, for a home for the four of them. And they were basically driven out of their house by the cold and then by a burst pipe. So that bust had become their home. So just like Iris and just like Suzanne, she experiences a frozen pipe that bursts and destroys her home.


Exactly what happened was they had been dislocated by the cold. Like so many Texans, they had been driving around trying to stay warm in their car. And as they were sitting there in their car just outside their home, one of Tamani sons noticed that the Wi-Fi signal from their house was back on your life.


He was on the computer and I noticed her life was like, oh, so that mean that the power was on. We jumped so much.


And it was sort of like, you know, like the skies parted and choirs sang for the family.


Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba. From like, you know, get out.


Like there were so excited because they figured out instantly the power must be on. And so they ran back inside and Tamani made a beeline towards the refrigerator where she had just spent two hundred and fifty dollars on a load of food and she just started cooking.


What were you going to make out some fast furious. And then I had a big bowl of Chicken Little. I will heat heated up like super high and then like reckoning for you.


She started making fish and chicken soup and just figuring I want to get as many of these groceries used and cooked and ready for my boys as possible. Yeah.


Kind of make whatever we couldn't care less about and. Yeah. Yeah. And then maybe fifteen minutes. It's a great like that's when the league started and then the ceiling opened up, you know, we'll had plenty to do. And then I realized, oh no, we're coming back. And then I realized oh no, I didn't have water everywhere on everything.


And so they just grabbed what few possessions they could to try to salvage from this waterfall that's filling their home. And they left again. And I met them a couple of nights later sitting on the bus. So they were able to take some items from the house and save them, it sounds like. But how much did they end up losing?


I mean, a lot, but I bet, like, the couch is probably gonna be up my food in the kitchen.


As we were talking, she was sort of doing an inventory of what had survived and what hadn't. And most of their kitchen was gone. All my children, like my washer, my driver, my deep freezer. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, destroyed. And really, she didn't even know the full extent of the damage because it really was just so bad and so. Pervasive. Jack, what did she say about insurance or lack of insurance?


What kind of financial situation is she now in?


Like hundreds of thousands of people across Texas, especially lower income people and renters? She does not have any she had renter's insurance, but unfortunately, she had let it lapse. And so now she is facing the prospect of having to replace all of this stuff on her own. She has applied for federal disaster aid, but that is the start of a very long process. And it's uncertain when an inspector is going to come out, when a check might be caught.


Recovering from a disaster financially takes years. Right. And what about those boys? How are they handling this situation and especially now living on a charter bus with a bunch of strangers? I mean, they have been pretty resilient, according to Germany. I mean, she's been worried about the health of her two youngest sons because they have asthma. And she had a lot of covid concerns about being on a pretty confined bus for a couple of days and nights is covered here.


I think that's a very worrying about this kind of thing. You know, think, you know, everybody is focusing on this, but I'm like, how would you feel if you were finally here?


Everyone was wearing masks, but, you know, their kids the masks slip off as they're playing or as they're sleeping. And and also the ventilation, despite the fact that the air on the bus was kind of blowing at full blast. You know, it's a confined space and there really was no social distancing when you're squeezed on to chairs and sort of sleeping sprawled across your older brother.


So how does your time with this family come to an end?


Well, so as they were kind of getting ready for another night there, another night of watching movies, and Tamani was getting ready for another night of trying to figure out how to go to sleep without the seatbelt. Digging into her back, a woman who had been helping out came up to the family with a little piece of good news.


And that was that. Are you do you don't know my that they had found a hotel for them?


I don't know. And I feel like I have a lot of you three. You didn't have a lot.


You know, it was the first time in days that they would have slept on an actual bed.


And I am literally so grateful for you to be back tonight. When you guys come back tomorrow night, meal of the day, you just kind of figured it out day by day. And we are in this together. Jack, in conversations with people like Tamani, Iris and Suzanne. Who do they blame for the situation that they are now in? I mean, their stories are strikingly similar, infrastructure that failed, pipes that burst, homes that were really badly damaged, if not destroyed.


Who do they blame for that?


You know? They have been frustrated with. The pace of the response from the power companies in terms of getting the lights back on from the utilities that plunged them into the dark and in the cold for so long, they're frustrated with the insurance company and Iris's case. That's denied her claim for Tamani. I was really struck by how focus she was on just moving forward. I mean, the the state right now is going through this process of accountability, whether you want to call it, you know, blame finding or accountability in terms of asking the power companies and regulators and grid operators what went wrong and what they'll do to fix it.


But these are enormous political questions. And for Iris and Suzanne and Tony, there are more pressing matters at hand, which is where my kids are going to sleep. How are they going to get to school? How am I going to replace the groceries that got ruined? How am I going to move forward with my life? And that's what they were most focused on. Mm hmm. Jack, what you are describing in Texas is not just a winter storm.


It's not just an energy crisis. It is those things. But it's not just those things. It is clearly a story of disparity. Right. It's a kind of social X-ray that shows how fragile life is for these women. We spent the last year talking about how this pandemic has inflicted a disproportionate toll on on lower income people and on communities of color, and the same exact thing happened again when the lights went off across Texas. I was talking to one city councilman who in describing the West Dallas neighborhood where Tamani was on that bus that night, he said these neighborhoods, which are predominantly black and Hispanic, these neighborhoods are the first to lose power and they're the last to get it on.


They're the hardest to get hit and the last to recover. And I think for these women, that's what they're really concerned about, whether that pattern is going to play out yet again and sort of drag them farther back and push their dreams even farther out across the horizon. Jack, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you so much, Michael. Do you? I don't know what does it feel kind of like a little bit unfair that some people, you know, get to go home or grab their powers, they get flooded out?


Oh, yeah. But life is going to change soon. Yeah. What do you mean? Like, stuff doesn't only go. Yeah, but how do you what do you think about that. Like how do you try to get over to try to deal with it. I think I got to this. Yeah. This is very grateful for. Cool. And what are you most grateful for, grateful? I was. We'll be right back. Energy is essential to human progress.


Last year, Chevron invested billions of dollars to bring affordable, reliable, ever cleaner energy to people across America because it's only human to be there when it matters. Learn more about how we're working toward a brighter future at Chevron Dotcom. Here's what else you need to know today, the FDA has granted emergency authorization to a third vaccine against covid-19 made by Johnson and Johnson. Health officials say that the vaccine is a major breakthrough because unlike the previous two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderne, it requires a single dose and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for months at a time.


Johnson and Johnson says it will provide the U.S. with 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of June. And two former aides have accused New York's governor Andrew Cuomo, of sexual harassment. One Lindsay Boylen, a former economic development official, alleges that between 2016 and 2018, Cuomo made inappropriate remarks to her when, out of his way to touch her arms, legs and lower back and gave her an unsolicited kiss on the lips. Claims that Cuomo denies a second woman.


Charlotte Bennett, a health policy adviser, alleges that starting in 2020, Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. Cuomo has not denied asking Bennett personal questions and has called for an independent review into her claims. Today's episode was produced by Michael Simon Johnson, Diana Wynne and Sydney Harper. It was edited by Lisa Chow, Anita Bardugo and Mark George and engineered by Corey Schwebel.


That's it for the day, I'm Michael tomorrow, seen tomorrow. This podcast is supported by CarMax, America's number one used car retailer at CarMax, the best way to buy a car is your way, shop on your schedule and choose from over 50000 CarMax certified vehicles at CarMax dot com. Check out 360 degree views, set up a trade and appraisal, apply for financing and buy online or in-store with curbside pickup and home delivery in select markets. You get all the details and get started today at CarMax Dotcom.