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Residents of a senior living facility in Houston suffer from a lack of electricity and utilities

Residents of a senior living facility in Houston suffer from a lack of electricity and utilities

HOUSTON – Without power, air conditioning, working elevators or restrooms, tenants at Walipp Senior Residence found themselves in post-hurricane crisis mode Tuesday.

“I don’t know if the government is going to check on us,” says Diana Johnson, a 74-year-old breast cancer survivor who lives on the top floor of the four-story building and worries about her neighbors who have life-support machines that need to be plugged in.

A day after Hurricane Beryl slammed southeast Texas with torrential rains and fierce winds, millions of people in the sprawling Houston metropolitan area were without power, with no end in sight. Yet the most vulnerable, due to their age or health conditions, were most at risk in the oppressive summer heat.

Among the dead was Judith Greet, 71, of nearby Crystal Beach. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and died after her oxygen machine stopped working during the power outages, officials said Tuesday.

At the Walipp complex south of downtown Houston, Johnson had to climb several dark flights of stairs and a broken glass door to get a cold drink at a nearby gas station. The lines to get gas snaked around the block, and occasional altercations broke out.

The retired delicatessen clerk then made her way back to her apartment, opened the windows and waited for a breeze. Temperatures were expected to rise to 40 degrees. Her supply of Vienna sausages would soon be used up. She had food in the freezer, but wasn’t sure how long it would last.

On the third floor, 61-year-old Melvin Williams sat in a doorway next to his walker. He is disabled because he has blood clots in his legs that make it difficult for him to walk. He doesn’t have a car, it’s unclear when buses would start running again, and his family is in Dallas, he said. “All my friends are in this building.”

Williams estimated he had enough food for four days. “After that,” he said worriedly, “I’ll have to think of something else.”

The 56-unit complex was at full capacity before Hurricane Beryl, but residents who had relatives nearby moved out to stay with them. Some people persuaded neighbors to move out in the 1990s, especially if they lived on the top floor.

Warren Moss, 94, a retired carpenter and U.S. Army veteran, sat in the foyer wearing his Korean War veteran’s cap, waiting to be picked up by his granddaughter. Although he had enough water and other supplies to stay in his fourth-floor apartment, “it’s hard to go down the stairs,” he said.

Others had nowhere to flee or no way to get there.

“Where is the Red Cross? Why is no one here?” asked local resident Jessica Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, 59, is a disabled gig worker who walks with a cane and can’t climb stairs. She had heard about a day shelter with electricity, air conditioning and food – an emergency shelter in a Gallery Furniture store on the city’s north side that runs on a generator. But her car battery died during the storm, so before she could drive, she had to get a jump start from a neighbor.

She accused the city of not having prepared better.

“Why aren’t they up to date? They’re building and building. We can’t even flush and it stinks,” Gonzalez said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Gallery Furniture’s emergency shelter had served 4,000 people since the Beryl arrived Monday, including some rescued in the store’s flood vehicle, said owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. He shared messages on his cellphone from others still stuck at home. One was an 80-year-old grandmother; another was a 12-year-old girl who is bedridden and relies on oxygen and a feeding tube.

“Restoring power is a big problem,” McIngvale said. “We had two or three (people) out here charging their oxygen machines.”

Ronny Linley, 67, arrived Tuesday with his oxygen machine, found a place in the showroom to plug it in, grabbed a chair and put on his mask. A Navy veteran and retired truck driver, he uses the machine every four hours to combat COPD. His house in the Greenspoint neighborhood still had no power.

“I’m very worried about him,” said his girlfriend Maria Jones, 65, who drove him to the store. “He’s like a fish without oxygen – he can’t breathe.”

Linley was already checking his watch. Gallery Furniture’s day shelter would close at 8 p.m. and he didn’t know where to go after that but home.

“I guess we have to suffer,” he said.