HOUSTON - As millions of Texans anxiously waited for their power and water to return last week, one Katy family says it almost became a matter of life and death.
Their daughter, Julie, relies on battery-operated machines for breathing and treatment. But when they called for help, they say they were turned in circles.
"I was hoping we would just have rolling blackouts, but in fact, the power was out for 48 hours," said Lora Taylor.
Those 48 hours of darkness quickly lead to panic for Lora Taylor and her special-needs daughter, Julie.
The 39-year-old has a rare type of epilepsy, where she suffers on average, up to 100 seizures a month. Julie also has chronic respiratory issues including pneumonia and severe asthma, making her extremely susceptible to COVID-19.
She relies on three different battery-operated machines to breathe.
"The nebulizer does not have a backup battery. She has a cough assist, which is a little like a BiPAP machine. It forces air into the lungs and then out of the lungs to help clear secretions. Then most important is the suction machine because Julie is unable to clear any of those secretions, so she can aspirate that quickly and it can go into pneumonia. If she were to aspirate that at night, then she could die," Taylor said.
Taylor says a full battery charge for the machine holds for six hours. Although equipped with backup batteries and a car charger, Taylor said they came too close to the disaster zone during the storm’s blackout.
To make matters worse, the pipes in Julie’s room burst and their water pressure dripped to nothing.
"That burst and came through the ceiling and down, there’s a waterfall at the edge of my garage. You’re trying to take care of this very fragile child who needs medications every two hours around the clock, you need to be washing your hands," Taylor said.
"We’ve been in total isolation for 11 months. The thought of trying to get to a hotel or a friend’s house with a generator who lives 45 minutes away, in the ice, was kind of a scary proposition," Taylor continued.
With spotty cell service, Taylor tried calling for help. First she called 311, but in Katy & the unincorporated area of Fort Bend County, the city of Houston’s help-line doesn’t do her any good.
She was redirected to CenterPoint’s emergency line instead.
"It doesn’t seem to me like we have an adequate safety net, and we have to fix that. We can’t just have people die every time we have an emergency," Taylor said.
Over the summer, she signed up for STEAR — the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry. The database points local responders to homes with medical needs first in a disaster.
In a statement, STEAR officials said the registry does not guarantee assistance in the event of an emergency and referred FOX 26 to city and county emergency management instead.
"It looks to me like as a Houston native that we are having these rare, once in a lifetime disasters, you know, every 2-4 years. So we’ve got to make some changes so we don’t leave people completely stranded," Taylor said.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said they conducted 500 welfare checks during last week’s storm through phone and physical visits.
Taylor said her family never received either.
The Fort Bend County Judge’s Office said they’re still investigating the matter. However, they do encourage folks to find out which number is the right one to call, ahead of an emergency.