Story at a glance

  • The Southern U.S. is being ravaged by historic snowfall that is causing major electric disruptions, especially in Texas.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has complicated emergency response efforts and forced many to choose between COVID-19 and the cold.
  • Low-income families have been especially endangered by the loss of power, particularly nonwhite households, which have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

At least 21 people have died across the southern United States as a result of the devastating Winter Storm Uri, and millions more are without power and heat as the snowfall and freezing rain continue. Many of them are low-income, nonwhite families who continue to bear the brunt of compounding crises. 


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In Texas, Black and Hispanic families are more than twice as likely as white households to live under the poverty line, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Many are living without sufficient insulation to protect themselves from the cold, and others are living without shelter entirely. And amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, traditional emergency responses are failing. 

“Texas thinks it’s some big, bad independent state, but we can’t get the power on. We need to rethink how we do things,” Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, told the Washington Post. “When disaster hits, it hits those communities that we historically disregard and don’t pay enough attention to.” 


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These communities are also victims of environmental racism, including redlining, which forced poor, nonwhite people into neighborhoods that are now suffering the brunt of climate change and pollution. Research shows Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to live near landfills and industrial plants, including in Texas, where the New York Times reported that marginalized communities are at risk of exposure to pollution from industrial plants that have gone offline. 

“Whether it’s flooding from severe weather events like hurricanes or it’s something like this severe cold, the history of our response to disasters is that these communities are hit first and have to suffer the longest,” Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, told the New York Times. 


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Published on Feb 17, 2021