CEDAR HILL, Texas — Nikita Gilbert remembers how it used to feel as he'd walk his mom up the sidewalk that leads into her home.
For two decades, the house with three bedrooms and two baths on a quiet Cedar Hill street made her happy. It kept her comfortable and safe.
Now, every time Gilbert steps in, he flashes back to February 16, 2021. And all he feels is frustration.
“She worked all her life for this – for her house -- and to see it turn to basically rubble overnight?” Gilbert said, wiping a tear. “You see your mom crying, and you can’t help her.”
His mother, Gloria Qualls, lost power on February 15, 2021.
The Texas grid had become unstable as temperatures plummeted and demand for electricity skyrocketed across the state.
As his mom’s house grew frigid, Gilbert brought Qualls to his Desoto home.
His lights and heat remained on.
But, a day later, Qualls wanted to check on her home.
So they braved treacherous streets and made the drive from Desoto back to Cedar Hill.
When Gilbert opened his mom’s front door, his heart dropped. It sounded like it was pouring rain inside.
Qualls' pipes had burst. The ceilings had collapsed. Water covered every inch of her bottom floor -- and it was still flowing from multiple broken pipes.
“All we needed was a boat,” said Qualls, 75.
Ask her what she went through that week, and she’ll quickly tell you she’s still going through it.
“Hell," Quails said. "I went through hell. And now I’m hoping I’m going to get to heaven and get it fixed, so I can enjoy the rest of my time I have here.”
Qualls has insurance, but she says the contractor she hired only did part of the job before running off with her insurance money -- thousands of dollars that she'd paid him out of her own savings.
A year after the storm, Qualls' ceiling is mostly patched, but some holes remain.
The downstairs bathroom is tiled, but her sink and shower do not work.
Electric outlets are exposed.
The biggest problem is her kitchen. Qualls has no counter, no cabinets and no sink. She’s since plugged slow-cookers into her master bathroom upstairs. That’s where she also washes dishes.
When she makes the trek up or down her stairs, she has no bannister to lean on.
“I just go on down like this,” Qualls said, holding onto a wall. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Nikita cooks for his mother when he can, but he just can’t get her to stop cooking for herself.
“She’s stubborn,” he laughed.
He did finally convince Qualls that her stove, which is plugged into an outlet with no cover, could be a fire hazard.
“No one should have to live like that,” said granddaughter Unique Gilbert.
Millions of Texans suffered damage like Qualls. Those who had means recovered. But those who didn’t might never be the same.
“She’s just one of hundreds that are probably still dealing with the same situation, but it’s not talked about,” Unique Gilbert said. “ Once we got over it -- once the sun comes out and everything melts -- everyone goes on about their business.”
Nikita Gilbert said he has drained his savings trying to help his mother.
“I had a heart attack two weeks ago dealing with all this,” he said. “This is what occurs when you have a lot of stress on you.”
Qualls’ family is looking for a new contractor to finish the job. A year after the storm upended their lives, though, they’re still not sure who they can trust.