After extreme snowstorms hit much of the southern US, at least 30 people have died, and many are struggling to find food, water, and enough warmth to make it through.
But for Hannah Giffin, a 24-year-old in San Marcos, Texas, there was another crucial supply she spent two terrifying days worried she might run out of: oxygen.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be rationing oxygen," Hannah said. "It’s so surreal."
Hannah has several chronic illnesses, including interstitial lung disease, and uses an oxygen concentrator in order to breathe. She and her parents had planned for the possibility of a power outage, readying her backup oxygen tanks that don't need electricity. So when their power started going on and off Monday, and then completely stopped working Tuesday morning, they thought they'd be fine — but then like millions of other Texans, they realized the power outages were dire in more ways than they ever could have imagined.
"We went through them very quickly," Hannah's mom, Kristin, told BuzzFeed News. "The power outage was outlasting the oxygen in the tanks."
As her oxygen tanks grew depleted, they called the paramedics, who would usually be able to refill them — but they, too, were running too low to give her any. The only assistance they could offer was to bring her to a hospital, but with COVID rates so high and Hannah being immunocompromised, that was too big a risk to take.
"All of my doctors have told me if I were to get COVID, I would die," she said.
Hannah and her parents frantically called the police department, several fire stations, and a hotline for the state health department, and none of them had resources to help them. They even tried FEMA, hoping to get a generator to power her oxygen concentrator, but the website said they were "ineligible" based on their location.
The family got power back around 2 a.m. Thursday, so Hannah is currently OK and able to use her concentrator — unless they lose power again, as they expect will happen.
While they were still desperately looking for oxygen or a generator, Hannah and Kristin tweeted for help, and they were met with an outpouring of support and offers of assistance. Someone in a neighboring town has offered to lend them a generator, but with the roads as treacherous as they are, the family is hoping that won't become necessary — they don't want more lives to be put at risk.
"I feel this guilt asking for help, because then people are going to have to go out in this weather, and it’s so scary out there," Hannah said. "I feel guilty for asking for help to breathe."
For the 48 hours they didn't have electricity, Kristin said she and her husband, Eric, paced the floor, wanting nothing more than to find a way to help their daughter.
"It's among the most helpless times I've ever experienced as a parent," Kristin said.
When Hannah woke up Thursday morning and saw the photos of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz heading off to Cancún, she said she felt infuriated — though not surprised — to see the elected official leaving when Texans were in such need of aid.
"I think it’s really sad that at 24, I’m so aware and so used to being let down by this country," she said.
Once they are able to do so, the family plans to buy a generator so they are never in this situation again. But having enough money to afford a generator should not be the deciding factor in whether someone lives or dies, they said. They're now discussing starting a nonprofit that will provide generators to other people who use oxygen concentrators.
"We are doing them such a disservice by not providing something that might be $200, that could save their lives in a situation like this," said Kristin.