Canadians living in Texas say the winter survival and driving skills they acquired in their home country are standing them in good stead as the state grapples with widespread power outages and infrastructure failures brought on by a massive winter storm.
Having lived up north for years, several Canadian expatriates said they felt better equipped than their neighbours to brave the wintry conditions so unusual in the southern United States.
But despite their experience with snowy streets and frigid temperatures, they said they’ve never experienced conditions as bad as what they’ve seen in recent days.
“In all of my years in Canada, I’ve never had a power outage longer than a couple of hours. I’ve never had to deal with collecting snow to flush to the toilet,” said Janessa Frykas, a software engineer working in Austin, Texas.
None of the homes in her neighbourhood have good insulation, said Frykas, who originally hails from Dauphin, Man.
Not many people in the area know how to drive in the snow and ice, said Frykas, who moved to Texas for work about a month before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“If something like this would have happened in Manitoba, the housing would have been more insulated,” she said.
Toronto-born theatre critic Jessica Goldman said she’s glad she hasn’t gotten rid of some of her Canadian clothes, which have come in handy since her Houston house lost power days ago.
When asked if she wished she was in her hometown, Goldman, who has lived in Houston for about seven years, said she just wishes she was somewhere with water.
“We’re Canadians, we’re used to the cold. That isn’t the biggest issue. The problem with Houston is that they’re not used to the cold,” she said, noting that pipes in the area are not buried underground and burst in cold weather.
Water pipes ruptured by record-low temperatures have created a shortage of clean drinking water.
Texas authorities ordered seven million people – a quarter of the population in the second-most populous American state – to boil tap water before drinking it because low pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system.
“It’s been really hard because we just don’t have the tools,” said Jackie Dunn, 60, who lived in Ontario for 40 years and moved to Austin in 2003.
“If this had happened at home, we’d be all good. But because we’re down here, we don’t even have ice scrapers in our cars,” she said.
Dunn said she can drive in the snow, unlike some of her neighbours, and was therefore able to go downtown to check into the coffee house and theatre she manages.
“But people here don’t have snow tires. They don’t understand that hitting your brakes when you’re on a patch of ice is not a good idea and they tailgate still,” she added.
She said the storm was originally a source of amusement for her and fellow former northern residents, including friends from Canada, Minnesota and New York state.
“We all just kind of laugh at first, like at the beginning of this, we were kind of laughing at how everybody is all scared,” said Dunn. “And then it got really bad and it was like, this is no joke.”
While her home in Austin has power, she said she hasn’t had water for days and had to check into a hotel to get access.
Her Canadian friends and family have been jokingly telling her to just come home to Toronto, said Dunn.
“(They said) at least if you came here, you’d have the same weather and free health care,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
— with files from The Associated Press.
Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press