Traffic mishap and a garage full of carbon monoxide

Traffic mishap and a garage full of carbon monoxide

Jamaican nurse speaks about her ordeal during Texas snowstorm

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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IT began on the morning of Valentine's Day when her car, with a three-year-old among three people on-board, fell into a ditch as a deadly snowstorm began to take shape in Texas. The next few days then became progressively worse for Jamaican-born nurse Leonie Hall-James who now calls Houston home. Power and water outages plus a carbon monoxide poisoning scare are among her most vivid memories of the ordeal.

While it was a “scary experience”, luckily the car accident was not serious and no one was hurt. But the worsening weather added more than two extra hours to her return leg from the nearby city of San Antonio. Up to 10:00 that night, when the power went out in her Cypress community, the heavy snowfall had not yet begun. But by the next day, still with no power, it was snowing heavier.

“It was still more ice than snow. [I] went through that day with still no power. After 36 hours the electricity came back on. I remember standing by the window looking at a truck coming down the road and I could hear the ice crunching under the wheel. At this point it was now an issue,” said Hall-James who has lived in the US for more than three decades.

The power came back on Wednesday, but only for about six hours. Then they were without power for another 21 hours; and then the water supply went. From talking to others, she had expected that there would be an interruption in the water supply, so she was prepared.

“I had expected the water to go out... I had gone ahead and filled the containers and filled the bathtub with water,” said Hall-James.

She also applied this solution-driven approach to charging her cellphone and tablet. She plugged them in and let her car engine run. But she lost track of time and two hours later her garage was a potential death trap.

“I walked into the garage and I could actually smell the carbon monoxide. I turned off the car and quickly grabbed the stuff and closed the door to the garage so the carbon monoxide couldn't seep [into the house]. That was scary and dangerous,” she said.

Throughout her ordeal she battled with the cold. Layers of clothing and multiple blankets did little to keep away the chill.

But even as she suffered she knew her colleagues were having an even tougher time at work.

“I work on a floor with pregnant women, and my girlfriend who was there said there was no water to flush the toilet and the staff brought drums full of water. They had to be using buckets to flush the toilet,” she said. “My girlfriend who was there said every patient decided to have a bowel movement, so we talking like about 22 people and everyone had at least one bowel movement!”

With her ordeal still fresh in her mind, Hall-James has given the Texan authorities a failing grade for their handling of the storm.

“They knew it was gonna get bad and they were still not prepared for it. What they had to do was make more electricity available, and they did not,” she said. A mere two hours before the power went out on Valentines' Day, she said, she received a message from the power company saying there was “ a crisis and you should decrease your electricity to 62 degrees in your house”.

She believes that warning should have come days before.

“People died in their homes because it was so cold,” she said.

According to the Washington Post at least 32 people died in Texas during the storm.

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