Power was restored to nearly 2 million homes in Texas over the past day, officials said Thursday, but hundreds of thousands of residents remain without electricity and nearly half the state has been told to boil water for drinking as frigid weather wreaks havoc on infrastructure.
The deadly Arctic outbreak associated with two major winter storms has maintained its grip on much of the Lower 48 states. In Mississippi, more than 110,000 households are still without electricity, while another nearly 90,000 are powerless in Louisiana, according to the latest figures from the website poweroutage.us.
President Biden has approved emergency declarations for Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, sending federal equipment, supplies and other resources to the affected states. Since Sunday — when temperatures plunged sharply — there have been at least 47 deaths linked to the storm, according to tracking by The Washington Post.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said his decision to fly with his family to Cancún while his constituents dealt with freezing cold and power outages was “obviously a mistake” as public outrage mounted over his departure.
Texas is frozen and in crisis. A furniture store owner has emerged as a hero — again.
By Cathy Free
Houston furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is known for his showmanship, even airing television commercials in which he’s actually wearing a mattress to draw attention to his stores.
But McIngvale is becoming more famous for something else: turning his expansive showrooms into lifesaving shelters.
A series of devastating storms unleashed frigid Arctic temperatures on Texas, killing at least 20 people and leaving millions without heat or water — a life-threatening situation in a state unaccustomed to and unprepared for extreme cold.
Search data from Google reveals the scope of the unfolding humanitarian crisis and residents’ scramble to secure basic necessities.
When the heat went out this week, Texans scrambled for ways stay warm. The number of searches for “how to stay warm” in Texas were at least twice those recorded in every other state, peaking early Monday morning. Accompanying phrases included “without electricity,” “without power” and “inside.”
The historic storms and power outages pummeling Texas are shutting down water and heat at hospitals across the state, forcing some facilities to turn patients away and take drastic steps to conserve resources.
Health systems are reporting hundreds of their employees staying to sleep overnight because of perilous road conditions. Many patients who are ready for discharge are stuck because they have no power at home. And many others are showing up at hospitals in search of a warm place to sleep or to keep lifesaving medical equipment powered.
Hospitals are going to great lengths to protect their water supplies, including in Austin where staff used trash bags to remove feces from toilets, a nurse told KVUE. A hospital in Houston relied on buckets of rain water from the roof to flush toilets. Elsewhere, staff members are cleaning themselves with hand sanitizer instead of soap and water.
The cold has killed the young and the old. It has claimed lives from southern Texas to northern Ohio. And authorities expect the toll to rise in the coming days, with frigid weather lingering, hundreds of thousands without electricity and millions without clean water.
The two major winter storms that have plunged most of the United States into an Arctic chill have killed at least 47 people since Sunday, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. More than half of them — 30 — lived in Texas, where persistent power outages have exposed residents to bitter temperatures.
In Taylor County, Tex., Sheriff Ricky Bishop said his officers have been checking on residents for days, delivering food and water, and following up with them later to make sure they’re all right. Already, they’ve found three people dead.
Nobody likes Ted Cruz. This is conventional wisdom in Washington. While not technically true — his family members like him, presumably, and his approval rating among Texas Republicans last month was 76 percent — it feels essentially true. Maybe it’s the exhausting smarm, the squirrelly ambition, the hollow theatrics. Maybe it’s how he tried to block relief aid after Hurricane Sandy, or how he helped to shut down the government in 2013. The Victorian facial hair hasn’t helped; it lends an incongruous quality of statesmanship to a man viewed by his colleagues as a pest.
Nobody likes Ted Cruz. This was the place that Ted Cruz was starting from earlier this week. Then he went to Cancun. He went to Cancun, where it is mostly sunny and in the low 80s, while many of his ice-blasted constituents were without heating and plumbing, watching their ceilings collapse, huddling in warming centers, defecating in buckets, and generally not packing for a few days on the Yucatán Peninsula.
“Not good,” Cruz tweeted early Tuesday evening about the shutdown of his state. “Stay safe!”
Within 24 hours he was in Mexico. And by then, the pastime of disliking Ted Cruz would become sport.
A winter storm that has left millions of Texans in the dark with no clean water has led some merchants and vendors to inflate prices for necessities such as water, hotel rooms and gas, authorities say.
Hundreds of complaints of price-gouging have been filed in Houston in the past 20 hours, Christian Menefee, Harris County attorney, told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Hotel rooms have been priced at $1,000 a night, and bottled water prices have doubled, sometimes even tripled, leaving already distressed people outraged, the AP reported.
State officials have urged residents to file complaints when they suspect they are victims of price-gouging.
Charging exorbitant prices for food, medicine, lodging, fuel and other supplies during a state or federal disaster declaration is illegal under Texas law. On Sunday, President Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas and ordered federal assistance to local response efforts to the crisis brought by the winter storm.
Those who violate these laws can face penalties of up to $10,000 per incident and can be asked to reimburse consumers. If the victim is 65 or older, violators can be assessed a $20,000 fine.
During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, hundreds of complaints of price-gouging were filed, including reports of up to $99 for a case of water.
At least a dozen animals have died from cold in Texas sanctuary
The historic low temperatures of the snowstorm that has battered Texas, as well as other states, have taken a toll not only on humans but on other species as well. At least a dozen animals, including monkeys, lemurs and one chimpanzee, have died of the freezing cold at a Texas animal sanctuary that was left without power since Monday.
“We are devastated,” Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, which manages the Primarily Primates sanctuary, told NBC News on Thursday.
Feral said that as the cold struck, staff had to climb enclosures to capture the frightened animals and take them into warm bedrooms, but many refused to go, and for some it was too late.
Primarily Primates, located near San Antonio, asked for emergency help Thursday, requesting food, water, gasoline to keep generators going and gas for propane tanks, as staff members and volunteers struggled to keep the primates warm and safe while battling the cold themselves, according to sanctuary officials.
Dozens of primates have been evacuated to nearby warmer locations, including the San Antonio Zoo, Feral said, adding that the efforts to keep the animals alive without power and while the roads are snowed-in represent a great challenge for the staff, forcing some to sleep in their running cars to stay warm.
“The hardship is enormous,” she said.
ICE using generators at Texas detention centers after power, water failures
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers housing adults and families in Texas have experienced power failures and intermittent water service, officials said in a statement Thursday.
ICE officials declined to say which facilities were specifically impacted but said that generators have been brought online to supply backup power. Few details were provided about conditions inside the facilities but staff members are “closely monitoring the situation and making adjustments to ensure the health and safety of detainees in our care.”
Electric power is returning to a growing number of energy customers across the state, but utility companies are urging Texans to conserve energy as temperatures are expected to dip for another hard freeze Thursday night into Friday.
ICE said it is monitoring any changes and will “make accommodations that are in the best interest” of the people detained, authorities said.
Texas hospitals face multiple challenges as the cold continues
SAN ANTONIO — Hospitals in Texas are facing an influx of patients with injuries related to the weather or power outages even as many facilities are dealing with covid-19 patients and low water pressure and boil-water notices.
“All of our hospitals are impacted,” said Sam Bagchi, chief clinical officer for Christus Health, a Texas-based network of over 60 hospitals in several states. “The challenge here is the scope of the problems. It’s not as extreme as a hurricane, but it’s a broad reach for all of our facilities,” Bagchi said.
At San Antonio Children’s Hospital, children are showing up in need of intravenous nutrition because of delivery failures or home health care workers who can’t make it to their homes, he said. Children who use ventilators and other electric-powered medical equipment are also in need because of the power outages.
University Hospital in San Antonio has seen patients with hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, frostbite and car accident injuries, among others.
Some Christus Health facilities are relying on potable water trucks for clean water, which is especially critical for dialysis patients — a week of treatments can require dozens of gallons of water.
Hospitals’ blood supplies are also diminishing amid transportation delays and supply chain breakdowns, Bagchi said. Blood drives across the country were canceled because of winter weather earlier this month, prompting a call for blood donations from the American Red Cross. Blood centers had already been experiencing shortages amid the pandemic.
There’s also concern that as vaccine clinics shut down across the state, families opening their homes to others and the emergency warming centers could cause an increase in coronavirus transmission.
Ted Cruz admits he changed his flight to leave Cancun early: ‘It was obviously a mistake’
In an interview after his return from his much-maligned trip to Cancun, Mexico, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said he began second-guessing his decision “from the moment I sat on the plane,” referring to his outbound flight on Wednesday.
Cruz admitted he changed his flight to return from Cancun early, amid a report published by the New York Times that showed his wife inviting others to join them on a trip that was originally going to last until Sunday.
The videos show water rushing through broken ceilings into darkened rooms. Food heated over open flame. Hungry and enterprising home cooks making condiments with power tools.
No, these aren’t scenes from the latest dystopian sci-fi thriller. They’re TikToks from Texas, where storms have left millions without running water or power. The videos, which offer the rest of the world a fly-on-the-wall view of what’s happening right now, range from the giddily creative (see: salsa made with a hand drill) to downright harrowing (see: homes being destroyed by water pouring forth from burst pipes).
Let’s start with the salsa. Endemic to Texas’s regional cuisine, it’s a must-have for many residents of the Lone Star State. The proof is in the sheer number of TikToks featuring homemade salsa.
Thousands of Austin residents have no water — and no idea when that will change
By Sofia Sokolove
AUSTIN — Texas’s capital is on a citywide boil water notice, while thousands of Austin Water’s customers are now without any water at all, officials said Thursday. The utility offered no timeline for when full service might be restored.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Director Greg Meszaros said of the process, urging residents to plan for days — not hours — without water and to take whatever steps they can to prepare.
Meszaros was unable to provide an exact number of customers in that situation. He suggested they reach out to friends and neighbors to fill jugs. Some Austinites have resorted to using the snow, which is still blanketing the city and making roads treacherous, to flush toilets. The first priority, Meszaros said, is ensuring hospitals and health-care centers can care for patients; at least several facilities have faced a crisis in recent days, delaying elective surgeries and evacuating patients.
The boil-water notice came after the city’s largest water treatment facility shut down because it lost power, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Local water officials said the plant is back in operation but struggling to restore service, the newspaper reported.
Nurses at one hospital spent Thursday passing out more than 1,500 water bottles to patients and family members and improvising with trash-bag-lined toilets and cat litter so that restrooms could be used. “We’re all just winging it at this point and doing the best we can” one nurse said.
Austin’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management told a news conference that water has been purchased for distribution from out of state. But Juan Ortiz gave no date for its arrival.
And for a fourth day, about 50,000 city residents remained without power. Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said crews were focused on getting the lights and heat back on for everyone, but as conditions continue to change, “it is possible [the state grid] will have to mandate more outages.”
Southwest Louisiana city is beset by broken water pipes
By Katy Reckdahl
In Lake Charles, La., officials are grappling with water issues despite the city’s six plants supplying twice the amount of water normally needed on winter days. The reason is frozen pipes that have burst open on nearly 1,000 vacant properties.
“We’re putting air into the tire, but there are hundreds if not thousands of holes in that tire,” Mayor Nic Hunter said Thursday as temperatures climbed into the 30s. “We’re trying to plug those holes.”
While a resident in a single-story dwelling might get some water from a faucet or have enough water to flush a toilet, the pressure might be too low for a shower, Hunter explained. And in multistory buildings where more pressure is needed on higher floors, residents beyond the ground level might have no water at all.
Resolving the situation will take time; city employees and contractors have been driving street by street and making stop after stop. Every uninhabited building will need water turned off, Hunter said. But with another overnight freeze forecast, crews will likely be working through the weekend, he added.
Power restored to nearly 2 million Texas homes in past day, Gov. Abbott says
Power has been restored to nearly 2 million homes in Texas over the past day, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Thursday afternoon, but hundreds of thousands of residents remained without electricity as the governor repeated his demand for an investigation of the state’s electric grid operator.
Abbott said about 325,000 Texans still lack power, not because of problems with generation but because of downed power lines and other issues. He is urging the state legislature to mandate winterization of generation and the power system as well as ensure the necessary funding.
“I want everyone to know that all of us in the state of Texas believe it is completely unacceptable that you had to endure one minute of the challenges you faced,” Abbott said at a news conference. He said it is crucial not just to restore power but to take “action to ensure that you never have to endure anything like this ever again.”
Abbott said that the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) had expressed confidence in the agency’s readiness for cold temperatures just five days before the storm hit.
“ERCOT failed,” Abbott said, adding later that he takes responsibility for its “current status.”
ERCOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Outages also persist in other states, with nearly 130,000 customers affected in Mississippi and more than 100,000 customers affected in Louisiana as of about 6:45 p.m. Eastern time, according to the website PowerOutage.us.
Abbott said he made a formal request Thursday for the president to issue a major disaster declaration. If granted, he said, the declaration will help Texas apply for federal aid.
Texans are also struggling to get clean water. About 13 million residents are under notices to boil their water, according to Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.