Austin in the Winter Storm: Interview with Levi

In Texas’s unprecedented winter storm and power grid disaster, the non-profit organization Austin Disaster Relief Network inspired large-scale mutual aid and united the community with strength. They fielded calls and directly distributed resources that couldn’t be found anywhere else to hundreds of people in dire situations.

After personally experiencing some of the effects of this disaster, and consequently volunteering with ADRN as an emergency dispatcher, I felt called to visit with a few survivors to speak with them about their experiences.

I interviewed three individuals and families who not only received help from ADRN, but also gave generously of themselves to benefit the greater good. They’re inspiring humans. I took audio recordings (clips below), made pictures, and wrote a bit about them.

You can read and listen to a bit of Levi’s story here.

You wouldn’t guess from his affable demeanor that Levi has had an especially difficult year. On top of the pandemic, he lost his apartment to flooding during Winter Storm Uri, and just prior to that, he was hit by a drunk driver. He mentions this to make the point to me that while he’s experienced a series of extreme setbacks in close proximity, he recognizes “how good he has it” on the whole.

We talked about his being inspired by the way people united during the storm, and of forging unlikely friendships in the midst of the chaos.

When he first evacuated his apartment, he ended up at a hotel near the airport, with a friend who’d been visiting from out of town. Because they were amongst the earliest evacuees, he says they were some of the “lucky ones” to find space at a hotel. But food had run out there, nothing was open because of road conditions, and some stranded hotel staff were also temporarily living at the hotel with guests. When a diner re-opened in the area, Levi got in line to wait hours for a meal. While waiting, he struck up conversation with diner staff about his hotel’s situation and how there were hungry elderly people and others who couldn’t leave to find food. This conversation led to the diner donating boxes and boxes of food to him, and Levi coordinating an effort with hotel staff to move it there.

Thinking back on his empty, evacuated apartment, where water marks on the walls reached as high as four feet, Levi felt sure that everything would have been destroyed by the water. He recalls the chaos that forced him to leave.

He felt devastated at the thought of losing irreplaceable possessions like photos of his grandmother, his family bibles, and a 1890s illustrative bible from the personal library of filmmaker Cecil B. Demille. Unable to get back home to assess damage, Levi reached out to a friend still living at the property, asking if he would check on his apartment. The news his friend shared is hard to believe.

As Levi was frantically unplugging things before he left, he accidentally ran into a table, knocking over a ton of books and minorly injuring himself, but inadvertently creating a dam that prevented flooding in his office.

With financial assistance from Austin Disaster Relief Network and friends of the organization, Levi was able to shoulder the cost of living in a hotel for more than a month, and move into a sunny new apartment in Leander.