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19 February 2021

Lights back on in Texas, but water woes rise in South

19 February 2021

Power has been restored for many of the millions of Texans who lost power for days after a deadly winter blast overwhelmed the electric grid, but the crisis is far from over in parts of the South, with many people lacking safe drinking water.

Nearly 185,000 homes and businesses remained without power in Texas, according to poweroutage.us early on Friday, down from about three million two days earlier, though utility officials said limited rolling blackouts were still possible.

The storms also left more than 335,000 from Virginia to Louisiana without power and about 71,000 in Oregon were enduring a week-long outage following a massive ice and snow storm.

The snow and ice moved into the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, and later the north east, as the extreme weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 57 people, including a 17-year-old Oklahoma girl who fell into a frozen pond, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Winter Weather Texas (AP)

A growing number of people have died trying to keep warm. 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 the Houston area, a family died from carbon monoxide as their car idled in the garage.

Utility firms from Minnesota to Texas used rolling blackouts to ease strained power grids, but the remaining Texas outages were mostly weather-related, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Federal Emergency Management Agency acting administrator Bob Fenton said on Friday that teams were in Texas with fuel, water, blankets and other supplies.

“What has me most worried is making sure that people stay warm,” he said, while urging people without heat to go to a shelter or warming centre.

Rotating outages for Texas could return if electricity demand rises as people get power and heating back, said Dan Woodfin, the council’s senior director of system operations.

Texas governor Greg Abbott warned that residents “are not out of the woods”, with temperatures still well below freezing statewide, south central Texas threatened by a winter storm and disruptions in food supply chains.

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

In Abilene, a man died at a health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.

Water pressure dropped after lines froze and people left taps dripping to prevent pipes from icing, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

President Joe Biden said he called Mr Abbott on Thursday evening and offered additional support from the federal government to state and local agencies.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said residents will probably have to boil tap water in the fourth-largest US city until Sunday or Monday.

Federal emergency officials 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 was co-ordinating food donations to hospitals.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,000 Texas public water systems and 177 of the state’s 254 counties had reported weather-related operational disruptions, affecting more than 14 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

About 260,000 homes and businesses in Tennessee’s largest county, which includes Memphis, were told to boil water after cold temperatures led to water main ruptures and problems at pumping stations. Memphis International Airport cancelled all incoming and outgoing passenger flights on Friday due to water pressure issues.

In Texas, more than 300 flights in and out of Dallas and Houston were cancelled on Friday, according to flightaware.com.

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