Historic storm leaves dozens dead and millions without water as power returns to US state of Texas.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee loads donated water into a car at a Houston distribution site on February 18, 2021 [David J Phillip/AP Photo]
Power is returning in the storm-hit US state of Texas, but challenges remain as millions still face water-boil notices and power lines remain downed across the second-largest United States state on Friday.
All power plants in the state were once again functioning, but about 280,000 homes were still without power early Friday while 13 million people – nearly half of all Texans – have seen water services disrupted.
Ice that downed power lines during the week and other issues have linesmen scrambling to hook all homes back up to power, while the state’s powerful oil and gas sector has looked for ways to renew production.
Hospitals in some hard-hit areas ran out of water and transferred patients elsewhere, while millions of people were ordered to boil water to make it safe for drinking. Water-treatment plants were knocked offline this week, potentially allowing harmful bacteria to proliferate.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed that all power-generating plants in the state were online as of Thursday afternoon. He urged lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure the energy grid was prepared for cold weather in the future.
“What happened this week to our fellow Texans is absolutely unacceptable and can never be replicated again,” Abbott told an afternoon news conference.
The governor lashed out at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90 percent of the state’s electricity, which he said had told officials before the storm that the grid was prepared for the cold weather.
Abbott, too, faced criticism over the state’s response to the storm and its previous efforts to winterise the grid. ERCOT, a non-profit, is responsible for managing the state’s deregulated energy market, a move passed by the Texas legislature in 1995.
Greg Abbott and the Legislature desperately want everyone to blame ERCOT, but ERCOT is mostly just a traffic cop for the grid. This market was deregulated and designed by the Legislature and maintained and promoted by politicians. They are the deciders.
— Forrest Wilder (@Forrest4Trees) February 17, 2021
The lack of power has cut off water supplies for millions, further strained hospitals’ ability to treat patients amid the coronavirus pandemic, and isolated vulnerable communities, with frozen roads still impassable in parts of the state.
Nearly two dozen deaths have been attributed to the cold snap. Officials say they suspect many more people have died, but their bodies have not yet been discovered.
Authorities ordered seven million people to boil tap water before drinking it on Thursday, following the record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and pipes.
In and around the western Texas city of Abilene, authorities said six people died of the cold — including a 60-year-old man found dead in his bed in his frigid home and another who died at a healthcare facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.
In the Houston area, a family died from carbon monoxide poisoning as their car idled in their garage.
US President Joe Biden confirmed Thursday that he had spoken to Abbott and “conveyed his support to the people of Texas in this trying time”. Federal agencies were instructed to consider “immediate steps” to help Texans.
— Kelly O’Donnell (@KellyO) February 19, 2021
The storms also left more than 450,000 from West Virginia to Louisiana without power and 100,000 in Oregon were still enduring a weeklong outage following a massive storm with snow and ice.
The snow and ice moved into the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, and later the Northeast as the extreme weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 56 people, with a growing toll of those who perished trying to keep warm.