U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday approved a statement of major disaster for Texas as the state grapples with the aftermath of a winter storm that killed at least two dozen people and caused widespread power outages and water scarcity.
Millions of residents of the United States’ largest oil and gas producer have faced days of power outages, and nearly half of Texans still suffer from disruptions in their water supplies.
Lina Hidalgo, the top elected officer in Harris County, which also includes Houston, said on Friday authorities had reported 10 deaths from hypothermia. Officials said an exact death takes time to determine.
The action by the Biden government provides federal funds to those affected, including assistance with temporary repairs to homes and low-cost loans.
Biden is also considering a trip to Texas to examine the federal response to the first new crisis since he took office a month ago.
The White House works closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who initially disregarded Biden’s election victory in November.
Abbott thanked the president for approving the statement on the major disaster and said in a statement that it was “an important first step”. He added that individual assistance was only approved for 77 counties, not all 254 counties in the state as he requested.
FROM THE ANSWER TO THE RECOVERY
After all of the state’s power plants were back in operation, millions of Texans were finally able to turn on the lights and heat their homes again. The outages continued, however, and more than 78,000 households were left without power on Saturday morning.
Given the improving weather and the expected normalization of temperatures in the coming days, the main concern has shifted from electricity to water.
More than 1,200 public water systems have reported malfunctions, many of which resulted in reports of boiling water, said Gary Rasp, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). As of Saturday, 14.3 million people in 190 counties were affected this morning.
Toby Baker, executive director of TCEQ, said the agency will be conducting a full regulatory review for the state’s water systems.
“I am not aware that there have ever been problems of this magnitude from a water system standpoint in the history of the state,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. “We will take full advantage of this event to learn.”
At his Houston home, plumber Jay Farrell said he “would rather have been through a hurricane than this frost.”
Farrell said he couldn’t shower and has been using buckets of water from his hot tub to flush the toilet for days. When Texas was shaking in the dark while it was freezing, he said the temperature in his house had dropped to minus 5.5 degrees Celsius.
In Houston, officials were more optimistic after most residents were restored to electricity and the mass distribution of bottled water began.
“Things are looking good … We are heading towards normality,” said Hidalgo on Friday in a video address. “Right now it’s about moving from reaction to recovery.”
Meanwhile, Abbott said he convened an emergency meeting with officials on Saturday to discuss the rise in energy bills many residents were receiving after the blackouts.
Texas’ Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, came under fire after the power grid collapsed when demand spiked during the freeze.
Abbott hit ERCOT last week, saying the company told officials before the storm that the network was ready.
A lawsuit was filed against ERCOT in the Nueces District Court in Corpus Christi on Friday alleging the council failed to heed warnings and took action to address vulnerabilities in energy infrastructure.
Separately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has made civil investigative demands on ERCOT and other utility companies regarding power outages, contingency plans, energy prices, and more related to winter weather.
In a statement on Friday, Paxton said the companies had “grossly mistreated” the weather emergency and vowed to “get to the bottom of the blackout.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)