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A Week After Deep Freeze, Thousands Of Texans Are Still Without Basic Utilities

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

More than a week after a debilitating deep freeze and power outage, thousands of people in Texas are still without running water. City utilities have restored service after that severe winter weather, but residents are now dealing with pipes broken from the cold. Audrey McGlinchy with member station KUT in Austin talked to people who are just trying to make do.

AUDREY MCGLINCHY, BYLINE: Antoinette Cervantes no longer thinks about coolers in terms of how many sandwiches or drinks they hold. Now it's the number of flushes.

ANTOINETTE CERVANTES: It takes about half of these - this cooler to fill up the tank just to flush the toilet.

MCGLINCHY: So this is - this Yeti cooler is two flushes.

CERVANTES: Yeah, basically.

MCGLINCHY: Several times a day, Cervantes lugs her cooler down a flight of stairs, across a parking lot and to the pool at her apartment complex. There on a wall is a hose.

CERVANTES: This, for the foreseeable future, is what we're doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)

MCGLINCHY: Cervantes and everyone in her Austin apartment building have been without water for more than a week. The management company says the parts needed to repair the pipes are on back order, and it could be several more days before they arrive. Sure, the city restored water service to residents earlier this week. But for those with busted pipes, that means little. Cervantes says she feels forgotten, that with temperatures now in the 60s, much of Austin has moved on.

CERVANTES: It doesn't end with the nice weather, I mean, because, again, we still don't have a time frame of when we're even going to get running water again.

MCGLINCHY: The city estimates as many as 400 apartment and condo complexes are still without water. The number of people affected is likely in the tens of thousands. That's because of how multifamily plumbing works. Typically, apartments have one shutoff valve per building, not per unit. To fix a leaking pipe, you have to shut off water to dozens of tenants. Yesterday the Austin City Council held an emergency meeting. Council member Greg Casar acknowledged the city's still in the middle of a crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG CASAR: Some folks are starting to talk about, like, disaster recovery because the weather has shifted. But we are, like, still in the disaster because we still have thousands of people without water.

MCGLINCHY: Nonprofits have been distributing water to apartment complexes for drinking and cooking. Plumbers from outside the region are scheduled to arrive on Monday, but some tenants aren't waiting around. Whitney Morrow lives with her husband and 9-month-old son. It's been 11 days since they've had running water and no estimate of when it'll come back.

WHITNEY MORROW: I kind of talked to my management office, and I was like, just wink twice if we need to take my baby and go to my parents' house in Louisiana. And she says, I'm so sorry, but wink, wink. So...

MCGLINCHY: So Morrow loaded up the car - just bags of dirty things.

MORROW: Dirty clothes. This is all of his bottles that we haven't been able to wash.

MCGLINCHY: The drive to Louisiana would take about six hours. Shelby, her son, was in his car seat, the family's two corgis nestled next to him.

MORROW: Here you go.

MCGLINCHY: He was a pretty calm baby, smiling and drooling. He clutched a toy in the shape of a piece of pizza. Before they left, Morrow said she was glad her son wouldn't remember any of this.

MORROW: He doesn't know anything about the dumpster fire that we're currently in (laughter).

MCGLINCHY: And then they drove off, headed out of state in search of water. For NPR News, I'm Audrey McGlinchy in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.