Monday, February 22, 2021

Rural Texans face disproportionate struggles during winter weather crisis, but many say they can count on neighbors

Most Texans are struggling after last week's freak winter weather, but many rural residents may be having a harder time overall. "Like other parts of Texas, rural communities were hammered by the winter storm that left families without the basic necessities of heat and running water,"  Melissa Taboada and Sarah Vasquez report for The Texas Tribune. "But temperatures in the country dipped lower than in cities, plummeting to the low single digits. Fewer resources serve that larger geography, and without city services, mobility can be more limited. Many living in the rural areas are ranchers and farmers who also had to worry about and prioritize livestock and crops."

Russell Boening, a dairy farmer and president of the Texas Farm Bureau, told the Tribune he's never seen winter weather like this in South Texas in his nearly 40 years of farming, and said he's hearing horror stories from across the state from the organizations 500,000 members.

Rural schools and food banks are having a hard time coping, and some water utilities say their pipes have frozen, leaving families without clean water. Still, "Rural Texans also told stories of joy amid the hardship," Taboada and Vasquez report. "Neighbors helped neighbors, letting them stay at their homes or shoveling ice and snow from their sidewalks. Volunteers worked overnight to cook for warming centers and keep them staffed. While the icy roads kept [Milam County Judge Steve] Young from reaching his 93-year-old father whose pipes froze at his Rockdale house, leaving him without water, local police officers delivered a case of water bottles Friday morning. A Goodall-Witcher emergency room nurse, who volunteers at a local animal shelter, checked on a patient’s dogs."

Jerry Kenney, who invited neighbors to come to his house to shower, told the Tribune the neighbors paid it back by offering to pick up supplies for them all. "I love living in rural communities and East Texas," Kenney told the Tribune. "There’s a sense of belonging and a resilience that is unique. I have no doubt that I can rely on my neighbor in a time of trouble."

In a separate interview with The Daily Yonder, Kenney continued reflecting on the lessons the emergency has brought: "Life without water and electricity gets simple. For the past few days, I haven’t spent much time pondering the things that divide us. It’s hard to hate your neighbor when he’s sharing water with you. Who can indulge social media debates when it’s so cold you can’t feel your fingers?"

An article from the rural Breckenridge Texan reinforces Kenney's sentiment about rural neighbors pulling together, recounting a reporter's all-night ride-along with the county judge (an adminisytrative office in Texas) as he worked to help his community.

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