Texas power outages below 500,000, but water crisis persists during deep freeze

Power was restored to more homes and businesses in Texas on Thursday after a deadly blast of winter this week overwhelmed the electrical grid and left millions shivering in the cold. But the crisis was far from over, with many people still in need of safe drinking water.

Fewer than a half million homes remained without electricity, although utility officials said limited rolling blackouts could still occur.

The storms also left more than 320,000 homes and businesses without power in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. About 70,000 power outages persisted after an ice storm in eastern Kentucky, while nearly 67,000 were without electricity in West Virginia.

Snow and ice moved into the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, and later the Northeast. Back-to-back storms left 38 centimetres of snow in Little Rock, Ark., tying a 1918 record, the National Weather Service said.

The extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of more than three dozen people, some while trying to keep warm. In the Houston area, one family died from carbon monoxide as their car idled in their garage. A woman and her three grandchildren died in a fire that authorities said might have been caused by a fireplace they were using.

Drinking water affected

In Texas on Thursday, just under 500,000 homes and businesses remained without power, down from about three million on Wednesday. The state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the remaining outages are largely weather-related, rather than forced outages that were made early Monday to stabilize the power grid.

A sign advises customers entering a convenience store that they have no running water. Residents of Arlington, Texas, were told to conserve and boil water after a potential water main break. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/The Associated Press)

“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on,” said ERCOT senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin.

Woodfin warned that rotating outages could return if electricity demand rises as people get power and heating back, though they would not last as long as outages earlier this week.

Adding to the state’s misery, the weather jeopardized drinking water systems. Authorities ordered seven million people — a quarter of the population in the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record-low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and pipes.

Water pressure has fallen across the state because lines have frozen, and many residents are leaving faucets dripping in hopes of preventing pipes from freezing, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to shut off water to their homes, if possible, to prevent more busted pipes and to preserve pressure in municipal systems.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he expects that residents in the nation’s fourth-largest city will have to boil tap water before drinking it until Sunday or Monday.

Hospitals cancel some surgeries

In Austin, some hospitals faced a loss in water pressure and, in some cases, heat.

“Because this is a state-wide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, in a statement.

A patient at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center is prepared for transport. Earlier on Wednesday, hospital officials said some patients at the facility would be moved over to other hospitals in the area after the building began losing heat due to low water pressure. (Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/The Associated Press)

At Houston Methodist, two of its community hospitals did not have running water but still treated patients, with most non-emergency surgeries and procedures cancelled for Thursday and possibly Friday, said spokesperson Gale Smith.

Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity,” Smith said. She said pipes had burst in Methodist’s hospitals but were being repaired as they happened.

Texas Children’s Hospital’s main campus at the Texas Medical Center and another location had low water pressure, but the system was adequately staffed and patients had enough water and “are safe and comfortable,” spokesperson Jenn Jacome said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in Texas, along with thousands of blankets and ready-to-eat meals, officials said. The Texas Restaurant Association also said it was co-ordinating donations of food to hospitals.

WATCH | Some Texas gas stations run out of fuel:

Extreme winter weather in Texas has delayed delivery of gasoline to some fuel stations in northern Texas, leaving drivers to scramble. 0:42

Mayor resigns 

The now former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, said he had already turned in his resignation when he wrote a controversial Facebook post on Tuesday.

Tim Boyd said it was not the local government’s responsibility to help those suffering in the cold without power. “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” the typo-ridden post, which was made as millions in Texas were without power following the storm, said.

Boyd also wrote that he was “sick and tired” of people looking for handouts and that the current situation is “sadly a product of a socialist government.”

Boyd deleted his post but stood by the sentiments in a follow-up message. He also wrote that his original message was posted as a private citizen, not the mayor of Colorado City.

Father John Szatkowski, left, and Deacon Bob Bonomi of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Richardson sweep water out of the church. (Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press)

“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout,” Boyd’s follow-up post said.

Turtles rescued from cold

Thousands of sea turtles unused to cold temperatures have been washing up on the beaches of South Padre Island, off the southern coast of Texas.

WATCH | Hundreds of sea turtles shelter in Texas convention centre to escape cold:

Volunteers in South Padre Island, Tex., have rescued about 2,500 sea turtles who ran ashore to escape icy waters and are now being warmed at a convention centre. 1:10

Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the turtles are “cold-stunned.” That’s a condition where cold-blooded animals suddenly exhibit hypothermic reactions such as lethargy and an inability to move when the temperature in the environment around them drops.

Volunteers have brought some 4,700 of them to the convention centre, where they are being kept in tubs and enclosures before they can be released when the weather warms up.

Although, as this Tik Tok user demonstrated on Tuesday, fish weren’t faring much better in their indoor tanks during the blackouts.

‘Dangerous conditions’ in Oregon 

Weather-related outages also struck Oregon, where some customers have been without power for almost a week. A Portland supermarket threw its perishable food into dumpsters, leading to a clash between scavengers and police.

The damage to the power system was the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric (PGE). At the peak of the storm, more than 350,000 customers in the Portland area were in the dark. More than 100,000 remained without power Thursday throughout the state.

“These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,” said Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, who declined to predict when all customers would have power restored.

Damage to a house from a downed tree is seen in Lake Oswego, Ore., on Wednesday. Some residents in the state have been without power for almost a week following severe weather. (Amber Moore/The Associated Press)

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on strained power grids. Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states from the Dakotas to the Texas Panhandle, said rolling blackouts were no longer needed, but it asked customers to conserve energy until at least 10 p.m. Saturday.

The weather also disrupted water systems in several Southern cities, including New Orleans and Shreveport, La., where fire trucks delivered water to hospitals and bottled water was brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Power was cut to a New Orleans facility that pumps drinking water from the Mississippi River. A spokesperson for the Sewerage and Water Board said on-site generators were used until electricity was restored.



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