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For Refugees From Warmer Lands, Blizzard Hits Hard

Refugee service providers across the northeast ramped up to help their community members from warmer climates cope with their first snowstorm.
Image: Blizzard of 2015
A snow plow truck clears snow on a deserted road after Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy instituted a travel ban on all Connecticut roads in Newington, Conn., early on Jan. 27.Bill Shettle / Zuma Press

The snow may have hit Maine hard with accumulations up to two feet. But that wasn’t enough to shut down Pronsavanh Soutthivong’s Bangkok Restaurant for the day.

After spending two years in a refugee camp, the Laotian born Soutthivong came to America in 1981. She’s been in Maine almost 27 years, but even before that, had some real exposure to snow.

“I lived in Chicago for 7 years,” said Soutthivong, 49, to NBC News. “This is nothing at all for me.”

Of the blizzard-impacted New England states, Maine boasts the largest percentage of its foreign born population from Southeast Asian countries - around 9,000 according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many like Soutthivong have simply adapted to the weather.

But the blizzard of ’15 seems to have impacted Maine’s more recent newcomers from Africa, who, like Southeast Asians, hail from much warmer lands.

Rob Parritt, director of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter, the largest emergency shelter in Maine, says his agency and the city have established programs and are prepared to service the new refugee communities. These days, he says the vast majority are from African countries like DR Congo.

“We do talk a lot about the weather a lot,” Parritt said. “Someone shows up in a short and T-shirt, we’re going to say holy cow, we point them to all the mainstream resources available to them.”

The newcomers may one day develop the heartiness of Southivong, who has since become a U.S. citizen.

“I’m American now, a Mainer, “said Soutthivong. “When people say how’s my food, I say wicked, wicked good.”

How Do We Measure Snowfall?

Jan. 27, 201500:41

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