Robin Mayhew of Cleburne and thousands of other Johnson County residents spent the past five or six days without power wondering if they’d been left behind.
“Does anybody know we’re out here?” she said.
About 3 million Texans were left in the dark after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ordered utility companies to conduct rolling blackouts to ease strained power grids.
But those rolling blackouts became long-term for people like Mayhew.
“Power went out Monday night,” she said. “It kept going on and off. The fourth time it was long-term.”
The cold set in quickly, and soon it was 32 degrees in her house.
“So I called 911 and said we gotta get out of here,” she said.
The Cleburne Police Department transported Mayhew and her husband to the Cleburne Conference Center, where the city set up a temporary shelter for those seeking warmth.
“We’re trying to keep everyone there as comfortable and normal as possible fully understanding that sleeping in the conference center isn’t the same as being at home,” Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said.
Those comforts include cots, movies on the screens and food, with many restaurants and people stepping up offering to bring food.
“They’ve been great to us here,” said Dennis Foster, a retired 69-year-old who lives in an RV in Cleburne. “This is a god-send. I thought I was going to freeze to death.”
Foster’s home lost power about 2 a.m. Monday and he spent two days hunkered down under blankets waiting for the heat to come back on. When it became clear that wasn’t going to work, he came to the shelter with his dog, Brandy.
“I thought I was ready for the ice and everything,” he said. “I had food stocked up and all that. I didn’t expect the power to go out. When it went out it that threw everything off.”
With the power out, many wondered when relief would come.
“The frustrating thing to me is — I understand it’s a huge problem for everybody — but the lack of empathy,” said 59-year-old Anita Jordan, who lives at the Courtyard on Main Apartments. “No response to calls. Nothing. I haven’t seen a truck. I haven’t seen nothing. It’s just like we’re forgotten.”
Jordan’s apartment lost power on Sunday and as temperatures dropped, it became so cold in her home that the thermostat quit registering and just said “low.”
“When we were inside we could blow smoke out our mouth,” she said.
She took refuge in the kitchen, boiling water on her gas stove to create heat.
The apartment manager said it was a transformer issue and they had to wait for someone to come fix it — but nobody knew when that would be.
“Everything’s so vague,” she said. “You don’t know? How far does ‘I don’t know’ go? I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to get back to my life.”
Jordan works as a phlebotomist in Arlington, and her office was shut down most of the week but planned to open Friday or Saturday.
“I refuse to work when it’s snow and ice because I can get another job, I can’t get another life,” she said.
Since she’s not working, no money is coming in. But the bills are still coming, Jordan said.
“It seems like the waiting game has no end,” she said. “Now I’m at that juncture of, ‘How long is too long?’ When is enough enough?”
Jordan went home on Wednesday to check on her apartment. She noticed water droplets on the wall and fears burst pipes may be her next challenge. She took pictures off the wall and covered her TV, couch and table just in case.
Originally from Detroit, Jordan is used to cold, icy weather and doesn’t understand why Texas wasn’t prepared.
“Detroit was prepared,” she said. “This is a lack of preparedness. There should not be this many people displaced. This is crazy.”
Even those who have lived their entire lives in Texas like Foster are questioning why this happened.
“I’ve been in this area my whole life and I’ve never seen it like this,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. There’s no telling how many people are going to die because of this.”
All three said they tried repeatedly to get through to someone at Oncor for answers.
“I reported the outage because they said call back if it’s over an hour,” Mayhew said. “Well, OK, it’s been 12 hours. Eventually I was able to report the outage to their robot system. Whether they actually knew it or not, I don’t know.”
Jordan made dozens of phone calls and wrote several emails to Oncor trying to get relief.
So for all three, it’s a waiting game.
Mayhew’s power was restored Thursday, but she’s afraid what she’ll find when she returns.
“Once we get home I’ll just have to kind of assess everything,” she said. “Do triage and see what needs to happen first, second and third and go from there.”
While it’s been a struggle for herself, Mayhew said she doesn’t want to gripe.
“I’m going to try to look at the bright side and say, we were here,” she said. “We were warm. We were fed. My heat’s back on. It’s going to get better. There’s going to be some speed bumps along the way but it’s kind of expected. I’m doing a lot of praying, that’s for sure.”
As things begin to thaw, the shelter will remain open as long as it is needed.
“We’re prepared to do it as long as we need to,” Cleburne Assistant Police Chief Linn Goodman.
Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail said the shelter has been busy, but not overly so.
“We’re overseeing the shelter and the vaccination hub so we’re keeping pretty busy,” Lail said. “We had about 26 people Wednesday night.”
Police and fire have helped transport people to the shelter as needed, taken some to pick up medicine and even taken some to work.
“The people here have been absolutely phenomenal,” Mayhew said. “They have been so accommodating and so nice. Anything that we need help with they’ve been right there.”
It’s been a group effort and Goodman said it couldn’t have been done without the local restaurants — such as Taco T, McDonald’s, Domino’s, West End Grill and Loaf’N Dog — that have stepped in to bring food.
The Cleburne Animal Services also brought kennels so people like Foster could bring their pets.