One of former President Bill Clinton’s oft-quoted lines was, “I feel your pain.”

I felt Wild Bill’s sentiment as I watched recent TV coverage of Texas’ horrendous blizzard, which brought the otherwise Wild West state to its knees. Worst of all, lives were taken by the winter storm. 

Homes, dwellings and buildings in places across Texas had no electricity and no heat. What they did have were flooded, freezing rooms, damaged furnishings, floors and walls. All of it came in one horrible week of extremely cruel weather.

The complex, independent Texas power grid system and network protocols of iffy service seemed destined to fail. And when it all collapsed from cheap prices, as expected, it left an economic crisis and a snow-covered wasteland in its wake. 

Some residents got $19,000 or more electrical bills for two or three days of service from the conglomerate, based on its emergency rates. Obviously, the system is a con job, and the state government needs to fix it quickly — or even replace it. I hope an investigation can focus on the crooks who set up and benefited from this rip-off.  

When my wife Jean and I lived in Highlands, N.C., we survived a nasty nor’easter that buried our mountain town under a foot or more of snow for almost two weeks. 

The Nantahala Power people felt our pain and didn’t rip us off. They rushed to help the best they could and worked around the clock.

As warm-weather Southerners, Jean and I were caught completely off guard. It was one of those horrible situations we will never forget. But it was Old Man Winter behind the scene and not a den of thieves.

Many of us know what the good folks in Texas endured, something they didn’t see coming, something more akin to a scary nightmare than a long night’s peaceful sleep. 

In our Highlands weather nightmare, winds howled outside like hungry wolves, tree limbs bent until they snapped and snow rose higher and higher while we watched in fear and dread out the windows of our then-warm home.

Suddenly, we were without power — and heat — knocked out by ice-coated, snapped electrical lines. The temperature inside the house dropped like a rock. After a few hours, it was as cold indoors as outdoors.

The high winds of the nor’easter spread the snow all around. In just a few hours of downfall, multiple inches of snow and ice coated the streets, sidewalks and walking paths. No one could drive on the slippery roads. No one could walk steady on the frozen sidewalks.

Our water lines and toilet froze and stopped working. We could not take baths, even cold baths. The temperature in the house dropped into the low 30s for several days. To stay warm, Jean and I stayed in bed with our clothes on under thick blankets. 

It took longer than a week before town and county snow removers could clear the roads and streets. The N.C. National Guard used snow-removal equipment to open up the highways linking us to surrounding towns like Franklin and Cashiers.

Somehow, we lived through two weeks of the worst weather either one of us had ever faced. We grew up in the Deep South where extended snow and freezing temperatures are very uncommon — once in a generation, perhaps.

In Highlands, we had been warned of the nor’easter’s coming, but we failed to take the listen-up seriously. The first hint that we were in big trouble came when the strong winds arrived and knocked down our chimney and a few tree limbs in the yard.

We had no cell phone, and we had no relatives or close friends around. Due to our own ignorance and inaction, we shivered under blankets in our frozen home. 

One of the water pipes in the kitchen burst, sending cold water across the floor. We put up a panel to keep the water from the bathroom, bedroom and hallway. In just a few minutes, the floor was coated with a sheet of ice.

Even when the sun peaked through the clouds a few days later, super cold winds still kept us indoors.

We remembered how I shoveled the deep snow away from the car doors and exhaust pipe so Jean and I could warm up from the car’s heater. The warm air inside the car was a blessing. We spent a lot of time in there, when not in bed, and we didn’t worry about carbon gas poisoning.

It was difficult to stay in the house but more difficult to try and walk anywhere. Walking without slipping was difficult, but we did it mostly to move our joints.

A fellow Braveheart out walking around town told us it was the worst winter storm to hit the mountains in western North Carolina in more than a decade. That came as very good news!

The bright rays of the sun that came along some days after the nor’easter couldn’t cut through the freezing cold or ice, which stayed around for several weeks. Thank the Lord the Texans didn’t have to deal with the aftermath for a long period of time.

Though the nor’easter happened years ago, we still talk about it to today in our weather conversations. Somehow, with the help of angels, we made it through the worst possible time in our lengthy marriage.

We were extremely thankful to the restaurant owners who cooked with gas and shared warm food with the frozen residents. They were angels. In bad times, angels always appear. They were with us in Highlands. We know they were with the weary Texans in their critical time of need.

 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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