Dismissed by COVID, flooded by frost: North Texas family still feeling cold from winter storm

The Canales family lost electricity on the first night of the storm. The next morning their apartment in Hurst looked like a cooler.

“Nothing was happening and it was getting really cold,” recalls Mario Canales. “I could see everyone’s breath” inside the apartment.

Mario, his wife Carolyn and the three of their children who live with them set off in search of a hotel. They checked in, crouched down and hoped the storm would pass.

Wednesday morning, two days later, Mario returned to the apartment to collect clean clothes. As he walked towards the unit on the second floor of the Bristols Apartments, he heard a strange noise.

“Almost as soon as I opened the door, all this water came out,” he said.

In a video he posted on Facebook, water runs sideways under the sink.

As he wades through the apartment wading through the stagnant water, the damage is just starting to be felt: it’s in the living room, bedroom, bathroom and hallway too. It is saturating books, toys and boxes with their personal effects.

“All I can do is stay here and watch it all fall apart,” he said in the video between occasional swearing.

It was hot water, he said, and the steam was condensing on the walls and ceilings and humidifying some of the children’s rooms upstairs.

Eventually, city workers had to come and shut off the main water line.

The family stayed at the hotel until the weather started to warm up, nervous about the growing bill for the stay.

It had already been a very difficult year. When the pandemic struck, Canales was put on leave and then fired from the furniture store where he had worked for 13 years.

He contracted COVID-19 over the summer and is still feeling the lingering effects in his lungs.

Unemployment benefits and driving for Uber have kept their heads above water, but it’s nowhere near the stability of a full-time job with benefits. Sometimes Canales rationed his meds to make them last.

Moving

The Sunday following the storm, Canales and his wife Carolyn returned to the apartment to collect their belongings and see what they could collect.

A few days after the flooding, they found puddles of water under the furniture and in the oven drawer. The boxes in the pantry were starting to rust. The food in the fridge was rotten. It smelled of mildew and mold, Canales said.

In another Facebook video, he documented the damage. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, guys,” he said. “There are a lot of things that go through my mind. It’s hard.”

In the weeks that followed, Canales said apartment management failed to properly clean. He said the mold in the apartment triggered asthma and his daughter and wife had hives.

The Bristols Apartments are managed by Wehner Multifamily, based in Dallas. KERA contacted the apartment complex’s office and management company by phone and email for comment, but neither accepted an interview. An employee reached by phone said she was not authorized to speak officially.

The City of Hurst Code Compliance Department inspected the unit after the storm and found it habitable. Charles Harness, who oversees the department’s multi-family division, said in an interview that mold had started to grow on the family’s property, but found the apartment itself to be otherwise healthy.

Canales disagreed with this assessment. He said the family did not feel comfortable returning and decided they had to look for a new place to live.

After living at the hotel for a month, the Canales family moved into a new apartment in North Richland Hills.

The new place was bigger than their flooded apartment. Friendlier too, says Canales. The best thing about it was the layout: everything was on one floor. After a stroke, Canales says he only has one good leg – “and that one is uncertain,” he joked. The stairs are dangerous.

But this big, new one-story apartment was rather empty: so little of their old house was salvageable.

“It always crushes you,” Mario said. “Yes, you have a place, but you have nothing.”

A luxury at $ 30 per month

The Canales family had always kept rental insurance, but canceled it after he lost his job. They needed the $ 30 per month premium money to cover rent and other bills.

This meant that when the flood destroyed furniture, books and toys, they had no insurance money to replace them.

This is a situation that many families found themselves in after the winter storm, according to Samanda Gronstal, who oversees poverty reduction programs for the Greater Dallas Community Council.

This is a pattern that repeats itself in natural disasters: Financial instability often makes people more vulnerable to devastating weather events and makes it harder to recover. This affects their ability to work and stay healthy, further compounding financial instability.

“These are people who lived from paycheck to paycheck. They were already on the edge, and [the storm] only made it worse, ”she said.

Many of the low-income clients she works with don’t even know about tenant insurance, Gronstal said. For those who do, the relatively low cost is a luxury they can’t afford.

Immediate needs like shelter and food must come first, and there is often no insurance left to guard against a possible future disaster, she said.

“It makes sense for people to be like, ‘Whoa, why should I spend an extra $ 30 that could be used for groceries or gasoline, if I still have to go to work every day?’” Said Gronstal.

“When will the other shoe fall off?” “

FEMA helped the family pay their hotel bills, but Canales said they were unable to secure further disaster relief for those affected by the storm.

The biggest help really came from their community. Friends create a GoFundMe account. Catholic charities helped pay for drugs and groceries. Many people donated furniture.

“Little by little, a sofa and a loveseat are emerging. Some end tables, some lamps appear, ”Canales said.

The family also got creative, cashing in putt-putt golf arcade tickets they’d won over the years for a coffee maker, fryer, and bucket of Legos for six-year-old Aria.

But not everything can be replaced.

Mario and Carolyn have been married for 26 years. They have four children together and a lifetime of memories.

Photos of their children over the years have been lost in the flood: baby photos, school photos, wedding photos. Carolyn lost family photo albums her grandmother had given her.

Mario said he still felt broken by the whole experience and the family was still shaken up.

“We can’t relax because we feel like, ‘When is the other shoe going to fall off? ” “, did he declare. “It was our chance. We are therefore cautious. We are happy, but we are a happy prudent.

Even with a new place to live, with furniture to make you feel at home, the economic burden has not eased. Mario is still looking for a full-time job, still trying to regain some financial stability, still shaking off the lingering effects of the winter storm.

Do you have any advice? Christopher Connelly is KERA’s One Crisis Away reporter, exploring life on the financial limit. Send an email to Christophe at [email protected]You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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