Texas mother Jackie Pham Nguyen is living every parents’ worst nightmare in real-time. After spending an idyllic day frolicking in the snow, playing board games, and enjoying a day free from responsibilities, Nguyen and her three children, Colette, 5, Edison, 8, and Olivia, 11, welcomed Nguyen’s mother Loan Le, 75, to stay the night. Le’s power was out after a freak snowstorm covered parts of Texas in uncharacteristic winter weather, but the Nguyens were one of only a handful of homes with lights burning and heat on.
“Honestly it was an awesome day. We had lunch at home, hung out. The kids were excited that they didn’t have school because it was Presidents’ Day, and we just kind of had the news running in the background the whole time,” Jackie told The Daily Beast. “The whole day, I felt grateful we were among the 10 to 15 percent of Houston that had power.”
Around 5 p.m. they lost power, but Nguyen said she wasn’t worried. The family lit a fire in the fireplace to warm the home and continued to play games together until bedtime. After tucking her kids safely in bed, Nguyen turned in, but the next thing she remembers wasn’t a family breakfast in front of a cozy fire.
Jackie woke in the hospital to an official from the fire department telling her that her home had burned in the night and that her children and her mother had perished in the blaze.
“After that, I couldn’t breathe. Even now, I can’t believe it. This is some crazy nightmare and I’m going to wake up any minute now,” Jackie said in the interview. “How did we all have this perfectly normal day and how did it end like this?”
Officials are investigating but the cause of the fire has not been determined. Nguyen’s devastating loss is but one of dozens of horror stories coming out of Texas after a widespread power grid failure left millions huddling for warmth, without food or water for days on end.
Texas energy officials and state electrical grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been slammed for the infrastructure collapse which led to the deaths of at least 58 people throughout the state. Among those dead are 11-year-old Christian Pineda who is thought to have died of hypothermia while huddling for warmth in his unheated mobile home; 7-year-old girl Rakeb Shalemu and her mother Etenesh Mersha, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to avoid hypothermia in the family’s car; and an 86-year-old woman whose daughter found her frozen to death in her backyard.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Vanessa Kon the Nguyen children’s aunt. “We don’t know why the lights went out like that. The city should have been prepared for it. Why was the power off? If the power wasn’t off, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Texas, the top energy-producing state in the U.S., is also the only state in the country that has a deregulated, free-market power grid, a fact which many people are blaming for the deadly outages.
If you can still read this through the tears, head over to the Daily Beast and the Houston Chronicle for Jackie Nguyen’s memories of her three children — sarcastic Olivia, gentle Edison, and girly-girl Colette — and her mother, a Vietnamese refugee. These victims, and all the others of last week’s disaster, deserve to be remembered by all of us. The GoFundMe set up for Nguyen has raised more than $324,000 as of this writing, and she plans to donate the money to causes “that reflect the kids as individuals.”