It was Wednesday morning when Renee Rice noticed that water was barely trickling out of her faucet. By Thursday afternoon, she and her husband were in the backyard of their home in Austin, shoveling snow into plastic buckets to boil for water.
“They said we won’t have water for three to five days,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I’m one of the lucky ones. At least I have power.”
First, it was snow and freezing temperatures, but people across Texas soon found themselves in the middle of massive power outages, struggling to keep warm as a brutal winter storm pounded the state this week. But with no power or heat, pipes began to freeze, at times bursting, and by Thursday, people across the state found themselves harvesting snow and icicles for water.
“We’re just not prepared for something like this,” Rice said.
In Austin on Friday, most of its nearly 1 million residents found themselves with no water and no indication of when they’d find safe drinking again, prompting many to start harvesting the same snow that had brought the state to a standstill.
According to Austin Water, most of the city remained without water as of Friday afternoon. And the city’s central region, the only one with water access, was continuing to report low water pressure. The agency said it was putting out 32 million gallons of water daily as of Friday, significantly short of the minimum 100 million gallons it needed for a healthy system.
For Rice, the sudden water shutdown was indicative of just how unprepared the entire state was for a winter storm like the one currently pummeling the state, she said.
“I don’t even have proper attire,” she said, pointing out she and her husband have been layering hoodies and wearing multiple layers of pants to keep warm. “We’re just not prepared.”
Her family has so far stored five buckets and coolers of snow ready to use if needed. She had some water stored for drinking, but between herself, her husband, and her parents, she’s not sure how long they can go.
This week she’s gone to grocery stores multiple times looking through empty shelves for food and water. Instead, she’s only been able to stock up on roughly $200 of junk food she was able to buy at a gas station — the only place she found with food. But even there, she was unable to find any water, only a few bottles of chocolate milk.
For Josh Jakob and his wife, water pressure was noticeably lower on Tuesday. Originally from New York and having seen winter storms that shut down the entire city, they had a sense of what was coming.
The two filled up their bathtub with water to use for flushing toilets and washing hands and dishes. They had some water saved for brushing teeth and drinking as well.
But despite living their entire lives in New York and braving Hurricane Sandy, Jakob said they’ve never had to use the reserve tub water — until this week.
“We came here to get away from the snow, and it’s apparently following us,” Jakob said.
For drinking water, Jakob said he scooped up a pile of pristine snow that had been sitting atop their patio table to boil. He’s scraped ice off a large freezer in their garage for water to washing hands and plates.
As temperatures rose a bit Friday, Jakob grabbed a bucket and placed it near his roof to grab the melted snow dripping off the roof.
“Getting easier to harvest that sweet sweet toilet water,” he tweeted.
He and his wife are trying to save the water, not knowing how long it might be until their tap begins to work again.
“Our dishes are piling up,” he said. “It’s not pretty, either.”
Although power on Friday appeared to be restored to many Texans who had lost electricity this week, residents feared that the water shortage and the damage to the water and plumbing system could mean a prolonged disaster.
Not only have homes and apartments seen burst pipes, but the damage to citywide water systems is still unclear, he said.
“It seems like it’s going to be a bigger disaster,” Jakob said.
For now, Jakob’s bracing for the long run, he said. The dishes keep piling up and baths are in short supply.
“I want to take a shower,” he said. “My son says I smell like tacos.”