Energy & Environment

Nearly A Week After The Winter Storm, Some In Houston’s 5th Ward Are Still Without Water

Residents said they’re having to borrow water or use bottled water to bathe, cook and flush toilets since their pipes burst.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Tammy Gallegos, 48, and her granddaughter wait in line to receive food and water in Fifth Ward. Taken on Feb 25, 2021. Galegos said she and her neighbors are still waiting on their landlord to fix the water since pipes were affected by the freeze.

Theresa Anderson has been without water since last week’s winter storm hit the Houston area. She hasn’t been able to find someone to fix the burst water pipe in her home.

It’s been terrible, she said: She’s disabled, and getting help has been a challenge.

“I’m sitting here and I’m just trying to get somebody to go get me some water right now because I can’t pack it,” Anderson said at a Fifth Ward water drive on Thursday.

Because of the home damage, Anderson, 48, said she and her roommate have been living in her vehicle. And it’s just the latest crisis she’s faced — her home also has damage from a previous storm.

She doesn’t have the money to fix things, and right now, food stamps aren’t getting her through the worst of it.

“If I can’t get the right type of assistance to get out of here soon enough, then we’re going to have to relocate,” said Anderson, who has HIV and said the situation has put her health at risk.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Wilbert Thomas, 58, at a food and water distribution site in Fifth Ward. Taken on Feb 25, 2021. Thomas said he was luckier than most, and felt “blessed” to make it through last week’s storm.

Almost a week after a winter storm that knocked out power for more than 4 million Texans and left more than 8 million under a boil water notice, some Houstonians are still in dire need of clean drinking water.

Houston and most of Harris County were placed under a boil water advisory last week when freezing and busted pipes lowered water pressure under safe limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

That notice was lifted in Houston Sunday, after samples sent to the TCEQ came back clean. But some communities have been able to bounce back sooner than others.

Houston Public Works did not respond to requests for comment.

Fifth Ward resident Tammy Gallegos, 48, said she and some neighbors are still waiting on their landlord to fix the water since pipes were affected by the freeze.

She’s exhausted, but grateful that nothing happened to her family during the storm. A neighbor is letting her borrow some water for now and her family are taking baths by heating up water on the stove.

“I’m ready to have water to take a shower,” Gallegos said.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Rapper Trae tha Truth helps distribute food and water in Fifth Ward, where several residents were left without water after extreme cold weather. Taken on Feb 25, 2021.

Blinda Whaley is another local resident whose water has been out for more than a week due to burst pipes. She was also at the Fifth Ward water drive Thursday.

“I’ve been using bottled water and what have you to flush the toilet, to wash my dishes, to brush my teeth, to bathe and all of that,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable.”

The drive was coordinated in part by volunteers Marcel McClinton and Amatullah Contractor, who work with mutual aid groups and noticed an extraordinary need for water earlier this week.

Contractor said she went to drop off water to a couple of people in the historically Black neighborhood, and quickly drew attention from neighbors.

“People just started coming out of their homes because they saw people were gathering around me and they saw that I was holding a water case and they were like, ‘hey can we get a case, can we get a case, can we get some water’,” Contractor said. “And it was just like the worst feeling because I only had three cases in my car.”

Another food and water drive is planned for Saturday at 3 p.m., at 9801 Bissonet St. in Southwest Houston.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Food and water was distributed in Fifth Ward, where several residents were left without water after extreme cold weather. Taken on Feb 25, 2021.

Contractor said people told her they didn't have running water and seemed surprised that she had access to bottled water — they hadn't been able to find any.

There are likely similar neighborhoods left behind across the region, Contractor added.

Wilbert Thomas, 58, was another one of the people in need of supplies Thursday. Sitting in a motorized chair, he patiently made his way to pick up food and water at the Fifth Ward distribution site. He was also excited to see rapper Trae tha Truth, who was on hand to assist people in need.

Thomas said he’s gone through this kind of insecurity before, including experiencing homelessness in the past. In fact, he said, he considered himself luckier than many others in the area.

“(I’m) blessed to be alive on the other side of all of it, to be honest with you,” Thomas said. “Because I have been in worse places.”

Additional reporting by Houston Public Media intern Emily Jaroszewski.