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Texas parents struggle to keep kids safe in the dangerous cold

Millions in the state are without heat or power in freezing temperatures.
Scott Dalton / American Red Cross
/ Source: TODAY

As freezing cold temperatures and power outages wreak havoc across Texas, parents in the state are struggling to keep their children safe and warm.

A winter storm that pummeled the state has set record-low temperatures in cities like San Antonio, Dallas and Corpus Christi, with some areas of the state seeing single-digit and below-zero temperatures. According to NBC News, the unprecedented cold put too much strain on the state's electrical system, meaning that more than 3 million residents of the state are dealing with rolling power outages or total blackouts.

NBC News also reported that at least 25 people have died in "weather-related fatalities" since the weekend, with the "majority" of the deaths happening in Texas.

On social media, parents have been sharing stories about their desperate efforts to keep their kids safe, including breaking out camping gear and piling on the layers.

Actor Mistura Asunramu shared a video on Instagram of her and her children burning magazines and papers inside their home in an effort to stay warm.

"We slept in (the) cold house, cold bed, no food, no water, no light to supply the heat," she wrote.

An NBC News reporter shared a harrowing story of trying to navigate icy roads to get to a hospital after his son choked on food.

Lisa Dallmer, a single mother of two children in Austin, Texas, told TODAY Parents that she and her sons had walked to a friend's house after their pipes burst. The family has not had power since early Monday morning.

"When we left, it was 49 degrees inside the house," she said, noting that it was warmer than the past two days; earlier in the week, the temperature was in the single digits at night. Dallmer said she and her sons slept in the same bed for warmth and used their fireplace to light a fire during the day.

"I was feeling fine, because we had cooking gas and water, until the pipes burst," Dallmer said. "I'm not faring as bad as some. Others are just really struggling."

Jace Winters shared a photo on Twitter of his daughters huddled under heavy wool blankets. Winters confirmed to TODAY Parents that his family has not had power for 62 hours.

"We are very fortunate that we have a gas fireplace in our home and lots of warm blankets," he said. "It's not much, but it keeps a small part of the living room warm enough to build a fort for the kids and dogs and keep them bundled up under blankets. ...

"We usually only get a handful of days each year under the freezing mark, and according to the latest forecast we will have six consecutive nights below freezing, so we are definitely hoping that we can catch a break soon."

Laura Wolf, the chief executive officer of CASA of Travis County, a non-profit that works with children who are involved in the child welfare system, said she is especially worried about more vulnerable families who may not have local support networks, reliable transportation, money for hotel rooms or other resources.

"The families that we serve are vulnerable under the best of circumstances," Wolf told TODAY Parents. "Under these circumstances ... the situation is pretty dire."

Wolf recounted an incident that happened just outside of Austin, where a homeless woman needed to find shelter for herself and her children, one of whom is just a year old.

"We were trying to find a hotel to put them up in, which we would have paid for, but all of the hotels were full," Wolf said. "So then we were trying to direct them to one of the warming centers that had been set up, but the car battery died. And so at that point, all we could do was say, 'Call 911.'"

On social media, many expressed concern for children in immigration detention centers. On Thursday afternoon, the official Twitter account for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that their facilities have been "experiencing the effects of the winter storm affecting most of the state," including "intermittent power outages" and "interruptions in water service." The agency said online that all facilities have "back-up generator power" and "staff at each facility ... closely monitoring the situation and making adjustments" to ensure safety.

Wolf said she's been hearing about residential treatment facilities for traumatized children that were not considered "essential services" or "critical infrastructure." As such, they remained without power.

"I think we're going to see some real tragic outcomes," Wolf said. "I reached out to a colleague who's the head of one of those residential treatment centers and said, 'I hope you are considered critical infrastructure and still getting power.' And he said, 'We're not.' They lost power, and they had to take a bunch of kids to sleep in a church sanctuary."

For families who are dealing with rolling or long-term power outages, the recommendation is to stay warm without risking their own safety. Residents should not run cars in enclosed areas or bring charcoal grills inside their homes. If using fire or candles for warmth, make sure that there is nothing flammable nearby and that an adult is always monitoring the situation.

On social media, groups have worked to share information about warm spaces available for residents. The Red Cross is providing emergency, coronavirus-safe shelter to those in need. A full list of shelters and warming centers is available on the Red Cross website. The Red Cross also is providing food and water to those in need.

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