Thursday, February 25, 2021
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Texas water shortages persist as power grid slowly returns to life

In the latest fallout from a crippling winter storm, more than 14 million Texans on Friday (February 19) had to endure disrupted water service, leaving many longing for a hot shower just as the state’s power grid jerked back to life after five days of blackouts.

All the state’s power plants were functioning again, although more than 195,000 homes remained without electricity on Friday morning, and residents of 160 of Texas’ 254 counties had water service disruptions, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

Nearly two dozen deaths have been attributed to the cold snap. Officials say they suspect many more have died, but the bodies have not been discovered.

A warming trend is expected to relieve some of the pressure on the region on Saturday(February 20), the National Weather Service said.

Bitter cold weather and snow have paralyzed Texas since Sunday (February 19), shutting down much of the state’s electricity grid and freezing pipes and waterways, leaving communities across the state either without water altogether or forced to boil it for safety. 

Monday (February 15) was the third coldest day since record keeping began, according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, with a statewide average temperature of 16.7 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8.5 degrees Celsius), citing records dating back to 1899. That same day, temperatures in the state capital Austin dropped below those in parts of Alaska.

But even as services in many neighborhoods return, broken pipes and other damage continue to render some homes uninhabitable.

In parts of the state, frozen roads remained impassable. Ice-downed lines and other issues had utility workers scrambling to reconnect homes to power, while oil and gas producers look for ways to renew output. 

Hospitals in some hard-hit areas ran out of water and transferred patients elsewhere. Millions of people were ordered to boil their drinking water after water-treatment plants lost power, which could allow harmful bacteria to proliferate. 

In Houston, a mass distribution of bottled water opened at Delmar Stadium on Friday, the city’s Office of Emergency Management said. Around midday, the line of cars waiting to enter the stadium stretched for at least half a mile, one police officer told Reuters.

Speaking at the stadium distribution site, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city aimed to distribute more than 1 million bottles of water to its residents on Friday and that another mass distribution would take place on Saturday. A boil-water order for the city might be lifted as soon as Monday, he said.

President Joe Biden said he would accelerate federal emergency assistance for Texas and had directed his administration to identify other resources to help the state. 

Biden said he would meet with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday and ask him to issue a major disaster declaration to speed up aid.

“God willing, it will bring a lot of relief to a lot of Texans,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed that all power-generating plants were online as of Thursday afternoon. He urged lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure the grid was prepared for cold weather in the future.

The governor lashed out at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, which he said had told officials before the storm that the grid was prepared.

Officials said during a press call on Friday that ERCOT has enough generation in its system to return to normal operations. 

U.S. property insurers are bracing for claims for damage from collapsing roofs, bursting pipes and lost business as Texas takes stock of its losses from a winter storm that has crippled its electrical grid.

Insurers in Texas, the second-largest property insurance market among U.S. states, are used to grappling with historic storms, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017. But this winter storm is unique because of its grip across the state. It crippled the electric grid and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power for four days.

(Production: Callaghan O’Hare, Njuwa Maina)



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