Hundreds of thousands of Texas homes went without heat for a fourth day Thursday after utility companies made some strides in restoring power as heads of state came under increasing criticism for their response to the winter storm.
The crisis facing the country’s second largest state is likely to continue. Millions of people still had no access to water, many struggled with finding food, and freezing temperatures expected to last until Saturday.
Judge Lina Hidalgo, the senior elected officer in Harris County, which includes Houston, said the number of unpowered homes in her county fell from 1.4 million a few nights ago to 33,000.
“It is definitely a big advantage that most of the residents are supplied with electricity again,” said Hidalgo in an interview. “They were miserable days, really tragic days.”
Hidalgo warned that a “hard freeze” Thursday night could cause setbacks and encouraged donations to food banks, with some residents battling to secure food and water. She noted reports from senior centers and other vulnerable communities lacking basic services.
According to poweroutage.com, a website that tracks outages, around 447,000 Texas households were currently without power, up from around 2.7 million as of Wednesday.
Texas’ Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, said Thursday it had made “significant strides” in restoring electricity. No detailed figures were given.
Disgruntled residents have turned much of their anger on ERCOT, which critics said failed to heed warnings after a cold weather breakdown in 2011 to ensure that Texas’s energy infrastructure, which is primarily gas-based, was winterized.
Critics have also raised questions about the leadership of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has called for an investigation by ERCOT. US Senator Ted Cruz also came under fire for flying with his family to the Mexican spa town of Cancun despite the effects of the storm.
Republican legislature halted his trip shortly after reporting his trips and said he would return to Texas and “get to the bottom of what happened in his state”.
Gary Southern, a 68-year-old real estate agent from Mineral Wells, Texas, said his power was restored Wednesday afternoon, allowing him to get his first solid night of sleep since losing power in the early hours of Monday.
“It was one of the worst things we ever had to go through,” said the lifelong Texan, adding that he was frustrated that there would be blackouts just for days without power. “I know a lot of people in our church still don’t have (power) and are frustrated.”
The lack of electricity has cut water supplies for millions of people, further strained hospitals’ ability to treat patients amid a pandemic, and isolated vulnerable communities with frozen roads that are still impassable in parts of the state.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 154 of the 254 counties in Texas reported water disruptions Thursday morning, affecting 13.2 million people. Many of those affected have been told to boil their water.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said historically low temperatures hampered efforts to vaccinate people against COVID-19, with more than 2,000 vaccination sites in blackout areas. In addition to supporting Texas, FEMA said Thursday it would be supporting the neighboring state of Oklahoma due to the impact of the weather on its power grid.
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.
In Galveston on the Texas Gulf Coast, a pop-up shelter with heat but no running water had about three dozen people huddled together overnight before being led back out into the cold Thursday morning so the cleaning teams could prepare for anything on Thursday night once again.
“When you go to the bathroom, take a bucket of water to clear the toilet – we’re going old school!” Cesar Garcia, director of the parks and recreation division of Galveston, exclaimed while overseeing the scrubbing of the shelter set up at the McGuire-Dent Recreation Center.
Garcia said he was bracing himself for a potentially larger crowd tonight, perhaps closer to the 100 who took shelter Monday night, slept in bleachers or on a gym floor with blankets, and whatever they brought from home.
“Tonight is the coldest night, we don’t know what to expect,” said Garcia.
While icy conditions should gradually improve, record temperatures in the South Central region of the United States are likely to last through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, which said the storm was moving northeast, dropping snow on a number of states Path.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)