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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Off-campus community members lose heat, water among statewide infrastructure failures

Brandon Chen/Thresher

By Amy Qin and Rynd Morgan     2/16/21 11:22pm

Below-freezing temperatures, hazardous roads, power outages and frozen water pipes in the Houston area moved Crisis Management to cancel classes Feb. 15 and 16, with Feb. 17 remaining a scheduled sprinkle day. No classes or exams can be held and no assignments can be due on these days. 

Meanwhile, students, faculty and staff living off-campus are living through severe low temperatures due to power outages in their residences, with some traveling to campus for shelter. Over a million people in the Houston area are currently without power, with more power outages likely to come, reports KHOU-11.

According to Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman, students living off campus without power have the option of requesting to stay on campus if needed, though there is no guarantee that they will be accommodated. Although there was no university-wide notification of this option, students received notification from magisters, college leadership and word of mouth.

“All the magisters know that if OC students reach out because they need housing, they will do their best to bring them into the college (provided rooms are available -- we must follow COVID rules right now),” Gorman said in an email obtained by the Thresher.

Housing and Dining staff have been on campus since Sunday to work in the serveries and administer other services, staying overnight on campus for the past two days, according to multiple college magisters and resident associates.

Rice Mutual Aid has asked that anyone with power and water who is willing to provide temporary housing to those without fill out their non-monetary aid spreadsheet or direct message them @ricemutualaid on Twitter and Instagram. 

Rice’s Crisis Management Team announced Tuesday night that rolling blackouts would be possible on campus, and may last from six to 24 hours. Shuttle services were closed for Monday and Tuesday. COVID testing appointments from Monday through Wednesday have been canceled for all students, and off-campus students have been asked to reschedule their tests for Feb. 22 or later. In an email to students, Gorman advised that students remain vigilant about safety behaviors in the days ahead.

“With everyone indoors, this presents real risks around disease transmission –– especially with our reduced testing program this week,” Gorman said.

People who have lost heat or power in their homes are advised to close blinds and curtains and seal off rooms with towels or rags to retain heat. The City of Houston Office of Emergency Management advises against dripping water faucets to prevent frozen or burst pipes. Do not operate grills, stoves or other gas-burning appliances indoors for heat, as this can lead to fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning routinely kills people during weather emergencies, so don’t take this threat lightly,” Crisis Management said in an email Tuesday night.

Baker College sophomore Emma Yang said she has no running water and hasn’t had electricity in over 24 hours. On Tuesday, she texted the Baker College group chat whether she could come on campus to stay in the commons even though she had not been tested.

“From Dean Gorman’s stance, students cannot access campus after moving in unless they have a negative COVID test result as per COVID guidelines,” Baker College president Adam Cardenas responded. “If an OC student is in that position … I would say reach out to friends who are also OC to see if they have power and are willing to let a few friends come over if the locations are nearby. This is honestly a sucky situation, and I personally feel different.”

Yang said she agreed with the reasons Cardenas laid out for not coming to campus. 

“We took Adam [Cardenas’] suggestion and moved in with some off-campus friends, but there’s no guarantee their power and water will stay online,” Yang said. “I think it’s better than risking tons of untested students using overstretched Baker water facilities.”

Yang said she has been adjusting, but that it’s been difficult to know what to expect in terms of housing, food, and schoolwork.

“I think there’s a huge gap between the amount of work on-campus and off-campus students can accomplish right now, although it seems like a lot of people on campus are experiencing water issues too.”

Early Tuesday morning, a sprinkler head burst in Duncan College, forcing 13 students to relocate, according to an email sent by Duncan College magister Eden King to Duncan students. Parts of several South campus colleges, including Hanszen, Lovett and Baker, lost access to water and faced low water pressure on Tuesday afternoon as well, possibly due to a broken pipe near Lovett, according to Cardenas. 

Baker College senior Eponine Zhou said she has not had power for two days.

“It’s pitch dark, there’s no WiFi or heat, I could not cook, and my devices ran out of battery,” Zhou said. “I was lucky to live right across the street from [Rice Village Apartments] and I went to study and rest at their lounge.”

Grace Wei, a Baker College sophomore, has not had power for 19 hours now.

“The most difficult part was not having my power while cooking my feta pasta so my apartment was cold, dark, and smelled like stinky cheese for the rest of the night,” Wei said. “I couldn’t really adjust to not having power but I tried to take my mind off of it by playing my guitar and calling my friends with the last of my battery.”

Kevin Ngo, a Brown College senior, said that the power at his house went out at 6 a.m. on Sunday and hasn’t come back. He has no WiFi or heat in his house.

“The irony is that it’s a bit nippy out here, but I’m worried about keeping my ice cream from melting,” Ngo said. “Also, if my meat didn’t stay frozen, I’m gonna be cooking a lot of food when my power comes back!”

Stanley Tsou, a Will Rice College junior, lost power early on Feb. 15. Tsou said power came back to his house on Feb. 16, but it was very unstable, with occasional outages and the fire alarm continuously beeping.

“Our priority at the time was just to keep everyone in the apartment safe. With no electricity, water or WiFi, our activities became very limited, and we were left with just using the last bit of battery on our phones with a spotty cellular service to communicate with our parents and friends,” Tsou said.

Tsou said that he and his roommate were able to stay in an empty room at Will Rice College on Monday night and dine in the serveries after the two contacted RUPD, friends who live nearby and even hotels that have power service available.

“We were also worried that all the food that we stocked up during the weekend would become spoiled. With the outside temperature being colder than that of the fridge, my roommate and I packed all the perishable foods that we have in our fridge and freezers into paper bags and left them outside on our balcony,” Tsou said. “In the midst of all the uncertainties, it was difficult to not think about all the assignments, readings and quizzes that we missed that could potentially put us behind in our courses.”

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