While most Texans are finally getting their power back, millions of people in the storm-ravaged state are facing an escalating water crisis following the historic Arctic outbreak that left pipes cracked and knocked water-treatment plants offline.

More than 14.9 million people in 159 counties were still experiencing water-service disruptions on Friday, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as authorities delivered bottles by air and said busted pipes may be residents’ greatest challenge in the coming week. Smaller towns and major cities, including Houston, remained under boil-water notices.

The storms have killed at least 48 people since Sunday — including 30 in Texas — according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

What you need to know
  • Hazardous winter conditions delayed the distribution of 6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this week, the White House said.
  • Texas has only one more night of extreme cold to contend with, but with new issues on the way.
  • Oklahoma, a state still recovering from the storms, was rattled by a 4.2-magnitude earthquake Friday.
  • President Biden will sign a request from Texas officials to declare a major disaster in the state, and he hopes to visit Texas soon, “but I don’t want to be a burden.”
  • Nearly 100,000 customers are still in the dark in Mississippi, whose Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has called the deadly weather “a slow-moving disaster.”
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said Friday that authorities are “having to deliver bulk and bottled water to a big part of the state today.”
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she will fly to Texas on Friday to aid relief efforts and has helped raise $2 million for the storm-ravaged state.
3:02 a.m.
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Texas journalists are providing critical information about a disaster they’re living through

Among millions of Texans who survived without electricity or water this week were hundreds of local journalists, responsible for publishing crucial information about the deadly winter storm while they were at its mercy.

Reporters, many of whom have spent nearly a year with no physical newsroom because of the coronavirus, wrote articles from cars and backyard sheds, searched for cell service on overloaded towers and met deadlines as their water pipes burst and gas leaked into their homes.

“I’ve been here for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Keith Campbell, managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, which several years ago covered a regional cluster of tornadoes that killed 11 people in one night.

2:14 a.m.
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Billions in damage across the South prompts focus on who’s to blame, and who will pay

AUSTIN — Millions of people across a storm-scarred South were bracing for one last night of extreme cold Friday following a devastating week in which dozens of people died, homes and businesses sustained billions of dollars in damage and basic services such as power and water catastrophically failed.

The reckoning over why — and who is to blame — was intensifying Friday, even as residents were still coming to grips with the scale of destruction. Across the region, homeowners who had fled frigid, energy-starved houses or apartments were returning after the lights finally switched back on. But once there, they discovered burst pipes, flooded floors, collapsed ceilings — and no water to drink.

1:30 a.m.
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In search of water at a Houston Walmart

The Walmart in Greenspoint in north Houston was busy but well stocked Friday evening.

Customers had cleaned out most of the bread, lunch meat, chicken, dairy and eggs, but there was plenty of canned goods, pasta and produce to go around. A handwritten sign taped to the milk fridge said “Eggs = 1 per family, Milk = 2 gallons per family.”

Most of the store’s water was gone, but a few packages of sparkling and flavored water remained on the near-bare shelves. A small line formed at the back of the store where people were filling up plastic jugs with water from a machine. Each gallon was 25 cents.

Jim Freudenstein, 68, was there filling up six gallons of water for his family of five. The water is back on at his house, but the city remains under a boil-water notice. The family lost power for a day and a half, and the temperature inside dropped down to 47 degrees.

“I’m from up north so I was okay,” Freudenstein said. “It’s so funny because the kids, it just didn’t bother them at all. But the adults, they weathered it, they didn’t complain.”

Freudenstein works security at a factory nearby. He said he planned to keep coming to Walmart to get water as long as it was needed for cooking, brushing their teeth and drinking.

As for whom he blames for the power outages and water issues the region has experienced this week, he says, “God.”

“But he’s also helping us get through it,” Freudenstein said.

12:45 a.m.
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Biden to sign major disaster declaration for Texas, he tells acting FEMA director

President Biden will sign a request from Texas officials to declare a major disaster in the state, the president told Robert J. Fenton Jr., the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in a call Friday.

Biden has already approved states of emergency in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, following severe winter storms that have pummeled the south this week, killing dozens of people and initially rendering millions without power, heat or potable water.

A major disaster declaration increases the range of federal assistance programs to help those affected by the designated emergency event. FEMA has so far provided generators, drinking water, food and other supplies to Texas.

Biden also told Fenton he was ready to mobilize other federal agencies to help those in Texas in critical need, according to a White House readout of the call. Biden said earlier Friday that he would like to visit Texas soon, “but I don’t want to be a burden.”

12:01 a.m.
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The race to rescue hundreds of helpless cold-stunned sea turtles

People saved hundreds of sea turtles and then helped them recuperate at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas on Feb. 17. (Will Bellamy)

Will Bellamy spotted two injured birds along the Texas coast earlier this week, and the self-described animal lover delivered them to conservationists for care. But the conservationists had a message themselves, he said: watch out for distressed sea turtles.

The deadly winter storms created a catastrophe for animals statewide — including for sea turtles prone to freezing in frigid waters.

Bellamy, an Army and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Haiti, spotted some turtles Tuesday with his son Jerome. But he needed help. He alerted Capt. Christopher Jason, the commander of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in southeastern Texas, and his wife, Cheryl Jason. The commander grabbed his kayak, paddled into the cold waves and retrieved a lapful of cold-shocked turtles.

But the next day, on Bellamy’s turtle patrol, the situation became far more urgent, he said, and one that would require a lot more hands.

11:21 p.m.
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Ceilings collapsed at a domestic violence shelter. Where do the women go now?

When women arrive at the Family Place, Ashley Jackson hands them a folder with a code to their room. There are fresh sheets and towels waiting for you, Jackson tells them. Your bed is already made.

You can sleep, she says — and you will be safe.

Walking into the Dallas domestic violence shelter Tuesday afternoon, Jackson found dozens of sheets and towels, drenched and balled up on the ground. The pipes had burst. Water was gushing through the hallways and seeping under doors. In several rooms, the ceiling had buckled, splattering insulation across the carpet like vomit. Women frantically gathered their sopping-wet blankets and sweaters as the shelter’s fire alarm, set off by the sprinklers, wailed in the background.

Some started saying they wanted to leave. Jackson tried to talk them out of it, knowing they might go back to their abusers. “That’s the whole reason they’re here,” she said. “They don’t have anywhere else to go.”

10:31 p.m.
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Texas delivering bottled water by air as broken pipes pose massive challenge

Power outages and broken pipes continue to disrupt the water supply for more than 14 million Texans, officials said Friday, as authorities delivered bottles by air and said busted pipes may be residents’ greatest challenge in the coming week.

State leaders said at an afternoon news conference that when clean water may return is largely a question for local utilities. But they said they are eager to help this happen as quickly as possible and are working to remove “red tape” potentially slowing all kinds of relief efforts.

“We know that it’s intolerable,” Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said as millions were being advised to boil their water before using it for drinking or cooking.

Authorities have delivered about 1.7 million bottles of water in the past day, turning to military resources to fly in supplies while roads remain dangerously icy, said W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Air shipments to Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Abilene are expected Friday, he said.

The government will keep delivering bottles for “as long as it takes,” Kidd said.

Abbott said state officials are creating a phone bank to find labs for local water utilities unable to test water at their normally contracted facilities. Emphasizing the challenges ahead for homeowners and renters with broken pipes, he urged people to get on the phone “today” with their insurance providers.

President Biden has said he will approve a major disaster declaration for the state, according to Abbott, which would pave the way for Texans to apply for federal aid in fixing home damage not covered by private insurance.

About 165,000 households in the state still lack electricity, Abbott said, but not because of problems generating power. Downed power lines are still causing outages, and some homes need to be manually reconnected to electric systems.

10:08 p.m.
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In scramble to find food, Austin residents turn to Facebook groups and Slack channels

AUSTIN — It’s now a scramble to find food in the Texas capital, where many residents are discovering bare shelves and purchase limits in supermarkets.

Friday’s warmer temperatures made roads more passable, but Austinites who lost food during this week’s prolonged power outage are having a tough time as they try to replenish their refrigerators.

At 1:30 p.m., several blocks of cars were lined up early at an emergency food and resource distribution site that was scheduled to open at the Dove Springs Recreation Center. The location in South Austin was one of four set up across the city.

“Expect high demand/traffic,” tweeted council member Natasha-Harper Madison.

Neighborhood Facebook groups and apartment building Slack channels are full of people asking about nearby food options, sharing lists and spreadsheets of stores that might be at least partially stocked.

Restaurants, already reeling from the pandemic and having lost out on the Valentine’s Day weekend as the winter storm descended, are rallying to feed their communities. Chi’lantro in North Austin noted on Instagram that it had 400 bowls of hot Korean BBQ to offer. More than 100 people were in line ahead of serving time.

Ryan Green, 27, was waiting with his 4-year-old son while his wife and baby daughter sat in the car. The Greens had been sleeping on an air mattress at his aunt’s after their apartment in the neighboring city of Pflugerville lost power Sunday evening. On Thursday, he finally was able to get them a hotel room.

“We had no ETA on when our water was going to come back on,” said Green, a travel agent. He drove to Chi’lantro after seeing a Facebook list of restaurants giving out free food.

“A lot of times we find ourselves being conservative, like, ‘No, I don’t want to seem greedy,’ but we’re all in this together.”

9:43 p.m.
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East Kentucky hit hard by power outages

Rural eastern Kentucky has been hit hard by power outages caused mostly by power lines that have broken under the weight of ice and fallen trees, officials and experts say.

As of Friday, the damage has left roughly 49,000 households and businesses without power, said Kenya Stump, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.

“And that’s down from a high of about 154,000,” she said.

A significant proportion of the outages were in the state’s rural east, where thousands have gone without power for more than a week, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

The worst-hit counties are also some of Kentucky’s poorest, where upward of a fifth of all residents — and in some places, nearly a third — live below the poverty line.

The region was struck by multiple ice storms over the span of a week, and its hilly, forested terrain has further hindered repair efforts, said Nick Comer, a spokesman for the East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which generates and distributes power to parts of the region through 16 local cooperatives.

Comer said roughly 40,000 customers covered by the cooperatives were without power. In Boyd County on the West Virginia border, 11,500 homes and businesses were without power Friday, according to the website for Kentucky Power, another major local utility. Kentucky Power said a total of 24,516 of its customers were without power.

More than 5,800 households and businesses were also without running water, as of Friday, according to John Mura, a spokesman for Kentucky’s Energy and Environment cabinet. Another 40,676 were advised to boil their water.

The Kentucky National Guard has been helping local authorities and residents conduct wellness checks and transport people to warming stations and shelters, the Herald-Leader reported.

9:14 p.m.
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Meteorologist for Texas grid operator warned of the winter storm’s severity

A meteorologist for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s electric grid, warned of the unprecedented winter storm in a Feb. 12 blog post on ERCOT’s website. 12. His warning came amid concerns raised from the National Weather Service, which began flagging the central U.S. as ground zero for extreme cold, beginning with forecasts issued on Feb. 5.

On the 12th, the magnitude of the impending cold blast was apparent to ERCOT senior meteorologist Chris Coleman. “This period will go down in Texas weather history as one of the most extreme events to ever impact the state. Temperatures early next week will set widespread daily records that are likely to be the coldest experienced since the 1980s,” Coleman wrote.

He continued: “In addition to the extreme temperatures, two major winter storms are projected over the next week. The first will begin on Sunday with near-blizzard conditions in West Texas. The storm will spread eastward Sunday night into Monday, impacting the entire state with widespread snow, sleet, and ice. A second storm appears increasingly strong as it’s set to arrive around next Wednesday with more snow and ice.”

8:44 p.m.
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Ocasio-Cortez says she is flying to Texas and has raised $2 million for relief efforts

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she will fly to Texas on Friday to aid relief efforts and has helped raise $2 million for the storm-ravaged state.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that she will visit fellow Democratic Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Houston and “distribute supplies and help amplify needs & solutions.”

“Charity isn’t a replacement for good governance, but we won’t turn away from helping people in need when things hit the fan,” said the lawmaker, a leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

Her announcement drew quick contrasts online to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), under fire for leaving his home state during the crisis to go to Cancun, Mexico. Cruz returned to Houston amid the backlash, admitting that the trip with his family was “obviously a mistake.”

“Many of us have now raised money from our networks for Texas and folks like @tedcruz haven’t deployed their massive network to do the same,” tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn).

Ocasio-Cortez put out a call for donations to be split between food banks and other nonprofits.

While most Texans have regained power, the state is just beginning a costly recovery process as residents struggle to get food and water, and repair damaged homes and infrastructure.

8:03 p.m.
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The cold from the central U.S. is oozing into Florida

The Sunshine State was going cloudy on Friday ahead of a strong cold front marking the leading edge of cold air from the Plains. It’s the same air mass that brought weeks of bone-chilling cold and repeated storms to the nation’s heartland.

Some parts of Florida will experience a 20 degree cool-down as the front passes, but there’s no comparison to what befell Texas and the central Lower 48 earlier this week. The front was also bringing a chance of isolated strong thunderstorms.

Jacksonville, Fla., started Friday morning at 73 degrees shortly after midnight. The city had cooled to 53 degrees as of 2 p.m., with winds veering from the southwest to the northwest as the temperature fell. Light rain was falling, with about half an inch so far today.

Tallahassee was in the 70s Thursday, but sat in the upper 40s around lunchtime. The front will weaken on approach to Miami this evening, and temperatures in the city — which should hit 86 this afternoon — will crest in the 70s Saturday. Comfortable humidity and lows in the lower 60s can be expected for a couple days.

On satellite, the front was accompanied by a textbook rope cloud, demarcating where shallow cool air was kicking warmth and moisture higher into the atmosphere.

The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center noted that a few gusty thunderstorms are possible ahead of the encroaching cold front, but any threat would be isolated. Widespread severe weather is not expected.

The cooler pattern in central and north Florida should last until mid-to-late next week.

7:24 p.m.
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Tulsa residents and businesses struggle with disrupted water service and burst pipes

TULSA — As of Friday morning, Oklahoma’s second-biggest city had recorded 279 broken water lines, and about 150 businesses and nearly 1,600 residences remained without water service amid around-the-clock repair efforts.

Josh Bilby, manager of Tulsa’s water distribution division, said permanent fixes and improvements will be needed, given the extensive havoc caused by the week’s extraordinary cold snap. “In the short term, we need to get as many lines repaired as we can and get as many people returned to water service as possible,” Bilby said.

Crews were responding to 153 active breaks early Friday, and midday the city issued a voluntary boil order for people dealing with low water pressure or discolored water. The advisory will last for at least 72 hours.

Businesses and churches that saw frozen pipes burst are cleaning up as quickly as possible so they can reopen — though the congregants at West Tulsa’s Red Fork Baptist Church, which was inundated with several inches of water, will be watching a Facebook live stream of their pastor’s message on Sunday.

In downtown Tulsa, The Chalkboard was hit with massive damage. Shannon Garner, who has owned the restaurant with her brother for nearly a decade, is still feeling shock and disbelief.

“The fire suppression system sprinklers just busted [Tuesday, and it was like it was raining in the kitchen,” she recounted. “We ended up with five inches of water in the dining room, and it went down into our wine cellar.”

Customers at The Hunt Club bar jumped into action Wednesday to help clear furnishings after water started gushing on them from a burst pipe in an apartment two stories above. On Friday, owner Mary Ellen Slape let out a sigh of exasperation as restoration crews worked on the scene.

“It’s just one more thing after the pandemic, but we’ll get through,” she said. “It’s a really old building and they’ve got pretty big fans in there drying out what’s left of the rafters. By the time they put a new ceiling up, we’ll be down for about a week.”

6:52 p.m.
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In Austin, lines wrap around stores and breweries sharing what water they have

Power is returning to Austin after days of freezing temperatures, but supermarket shelves are empty and basic supplies are hard to come by. (Lindsey Sitz, Alex Penrose/The Washington Post)

AUSTIN — The scope of devastation across this thawing-out city started to become clearer Friday, as residents returned home to find burst pipes, flooded floors, collapsed ceilings — and no water to drink.

Much of Austin is without running water, and officials cannot say when it might return. Bottled water has been stripped from the shelves of minimarts and gas stations, and lines are wrapped around some supermarkets, which are imposing purchase limits. By 10 a.m., at least 50 people were queued up for drinking water outside Meanwhile Brewery in South Austin, armed with large plastic jugs, empty milk cartons and soda bottles. The scene was similar at a Natural Groceries store in north Austin, where people waited with mostly empty carts, holding pots, tea kettles and jugs to fill from the tap of a small sink labeled “kombucha rinse only!”

Brewery owner Will Jaquiss said that after its water was shut off Wednesday evening, the bar decided to give out all the potable water it had on hand, about 3,500 gallons. Staff shared 2,000 gallons Thursday, including to four hospitals that contacted the business. The rest will be gone sometime Friday.

“We have some designated for hospitals, about 500 gallons left for the general public,” said Jaquiss, who hopes to start boiling water to give away once the current supply runs out — as long as his water comes back on. Ashlyn Jones, 25, showed up right as the brewery opened with a red cooler to fill for “bird baths.” She last had water Monday but feels fortunate given that her power and heat are on. “I’m from Chicago, so like, this isn’t painful, but it’s appalling to see how Texas has handled everything,” she said.