A trip to Texas to visit family took an unexpected turn for two Brainerd lakes area families, both of whom were stranded in the Lone Star State for days by severe winter storms.
The Dallas Morning News reported the February 2021 winter storm could be the costliest weather event in Texas history as the deep freeze and snowfall paralyzed the state. Mother Nature brought ice, snow and some of the coldest temperatures the state has ever recorded. According to several national news outlets, millions of people across Texas lost power — which meant no heat and burst pipes — turning it into a water crisis as well.
Shelves at stores were empty and food was hard to find, Rachel Bjorklund of Baxter said by telephone Friday, Feb. 19. Bjorklund was in Austin, Texas, with her husband Eric and her sister Kelsey Terhaar. Later Friday, the three planned to go to Target, which was expected to be open. The line was long to get into the store and the shelves were pretty bare, they said.
The three flew Feb. 11 to Austin, Texas, to visit family for a few days, expecting to come home Feb. 15. Instead, they were stranded by the storm and hoped to be home Sunday, Feb. 21. When they arrived in Austin, they drove to San Antonio, where they were staying. They cut their stay short because of the weather and drove back to Austin Feb. 14 — a trip that usually would take an hour and 20 minutes by vehicle instead took five hours. Their flight scheduled the afternoon of Feb. 15 was canceled, leaving them stranded. The Bjorklunds said their flight was delayed to the night of Feb. 15, then to Feb. 17 and now is scheduled to take off Sunday.
“We’ve been stuck in a hotel since Sunday night (Feb. 14),” Rachel Bjorklund said. “When we left San Antonio on (Feb. 14) it was sleet and snow ... and they ended up getting at least 5-6 inches of snow. The ice was unbelievable — it’s glare ice on the roads and sidewalks. They don’t have equipment (like they do in Minnesota for storms), so there was no salt or sand or anything like that for the roads. They don’t even have shovels and were using brooms to clear the walkways.”
Food was scarce and during the week Eric Bjoklund and Terhaar walked a few miles to try to find whatever food they could. The convenience stores were wiped out of items and most grocery stores were closed.
They waited in line for 3 1/2 hours at a Mexican restaurant to get food at one point, Eric Bjorklund said.
“There was a homeless person who ran in there when we were waiting in line and started demanding food and causing a scene,” Eric Bjorklund said. “He had to be escorted out. It hasn’t been bad, but that was probably one of the more desperate times we’ve seen.”
The trio said they were surprised that a good amount of people in Texas did have boots and winter coats on, as the temperatures were much colder than they are used to.
Rachel Bjorklund said she talked with a woman who had to use a portable toilet outside her home for four days because they didn’t have power or heat. Another couple they talked to was staying at their business and selling food and beverages to people.
The Baxter resident said the state also was under a water boil advisory. Millions of people couldn’t drink the water because the power was shut off and the water was contaminated.
“I saw on the news that people were taking snow from their yard and boiling it on their stove just to flush their toilet,” Rachel Bjorklund said. “People also were dying of carbon monoxide poisoning because they’re using their stove or oven for heat and people were bringing their grills inside and using them. They just don’t know any better here, like we just kind of know this kind of stuff ... and they were running their vehicles with the garage door shut.”
Rachel Bjorklund said they were staying at a hotel in downtown Austin and they were lucky to have power, as the hotel was next to the hospital. She said they mainly lived off protein bars and SpaghettiOs.
“We knew it wasn’t gonna be like a hot and sunny Texas, but we didn’t think we’d be stuck here from an ice storm for 11 days,” Rachel Bjorklund said.
Bryan and Julie Petersen on Friday were driving from Texas to their home in Nisswa after being stranded in Texas. They left home Feb. 9 to visit Julie’s daughter, who lives in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. They also had plans to pick up a rescue dog — a Great Pyrenees named Buttercup — whom they adopted.
“The Texas Great Pyrenees rescue called and said she’s ready so we made arrangements and drove down,” Julie Petersen said. “We stayed at this hotel in Katy that we always stay at and it’s very comfortable. We were able to visit my daughter and we had our little Christmas together.
“And then the weather turned that (Feb. 13) night. We lost power, and then lost water and the roads were nasty and you couldn’t drive. It was cold, I don’t remember how cold but it was cold for Texas standards, it was like 16-17 degrees.”
Before the weather got too nasty, Bryan Petersen found some buckets and went down three flights of stairs to the hotel pool to grab water to use to flush the toilets. Luckily, the Petersens had bottled water.
“Bryan brought his headlamp, which was so helpful,” Julie Petersen said. “We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner and slept. We weren’t too cold as we were on the third floor and wedged in the middle of the building.”
The Petersens were not sure how long they would be without power or water so they made arrangements to stay with Julie Petersen’s cousin, who still had power. Her cousin has only lost power for about 40 minutes.
“We thought we were going to get away from the cold for a while and have 70s but that wasn’t happening,” Julie Petersen said. “We were fearful of driving anywhere because people down here … a lot of people were being careful but there are those who think the roads are fine and so they go out and endanger everybody, so we were concerned. Everyone down here mostly is a novice.”
Friday they were on their way to get Buttercup and then travel back home — which is about 1,300 miles. They hoped to be home by Sunday.
Julie Petersen said her brother, who lives in Dallas, lost power for three to four days.
“His pool froze over, his pipes were frozen,” said Petersen, who previously lived in Texas for about 10 years. “In Texas the pipes are not underground, they’re up in the ceiling, you know. So if the pipes break you have a major problem in the house, too.”