Texans face drinking water shortage as power grid returns to normalget the free app
The number of people in Texas without running, drinkable water dwarfed the number of homes and businesses without power Friday morning as the state continued to struggle to recover from the storm that paralyzed it with a blanket of snow, ice and frigid temperatures.
Millions were under boil water notices, the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality said. And while Texas' grid operators said the system was back to normal Friday morning, tens of thousands of utility customers were still suffering from outages, according to poweroutage.us, down from a peak of some 4 million.
In many homes, taps were dry. Finding bottled water was nearly impossible. Some people resorted to boiling snow. Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, opened 11 sites Thursday to help give away water.
At least 44 deaths were attributed to the storm across the South, 27 of them in Texas.
The winter weather also created a political storm. Texas Senator Ted Cruz was severely criticized for flying to Cancun with his family this week while his constituents suffered in record-low temperatures.
Texas governor says about 165,000 households don't have power
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said about 165,000 households across the state don't have electricity because of downed power lines or because residences need to be manually reconnected to the power system.
"There are no longer any residential power outages due to the lack of power generation," Abbott said.
"For those still without power, we want them to know that local providers are working around the clock to restore electricity," the governor said.
Abbott said officials were also focused on restoring access to clean water. The governor said busted water pipes may be the biggest challenge Texans will face over the next week.
Abbott urged homeowners and renters to contact their insurance providers soon about property damage from the week's severe weather. People who don't have insurance can seek aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after President Biden approves a major disaster declaration for the state.
Texans without water or shelter face another foe: Price gouging
Texas officials are calling on residents to report any incidents of price gouging.
Houston-area residents have lodged complaints over bottled water and hotel rooms being offered for inordinate prices, according to Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, chief civil attorney for Texas' biggest county, and Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo.
"We've seen some anecdotal evidence of outrageous prices on necessary items like food and water, basically, price gouging," Hidalgo said at a news conference.
"Whether it's spiking the price of basic necessities, whether it's posting an Airbnb with power for $1,000 a night — we can't imagine something more cruel than taking advantage of people who are suffering right now in this disaster and have been suffering for days," added Hidalgo, who urged residents to report instances of abuse.
Read more here.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raises $1 million for Texans
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is from New York, but she is focusing on Texas this week. Ocasio-Cortez reacted to the dire situation in the state by creating a fundraiser, which as of Thursday had raised $1 million, she said.
Ocasio-Cortez said 100% of donations will go to The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Ending Community Homeless Coalition, Family Eldercare, Houston Food Bank and Feeding Texas.
Read more here.
Texas was "seconds and minutes" away from having blackouts for months
The top official at Texas' power grid said the system was "seconds and minutes" away from leaving residents without power for months.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas received intense criticism for leaving some 4 million customers without power this week. Bill Magness, the president and CEO of the council, told the Texas Tribune on Wednesday that it could have all been much worse.
Magness told the outlet that grid operators acted quickly to cut the amount of power distributed on Monday – and if they had not, Texas could have suffered blackouts that "could have occurred for months" and left the state in an "indeterminately long" crisis.
"It needed to be addressed immediately," said Magness. "It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system."
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Frozen fire hydrants hamper firefighters
Firefighters in San Antonio battled a massive blaze at an apartment complex without the help of hydrants Thursday night. Crews had to bring water to the scene, where fire hydrants were frozen shut.
CBS affiliate KENS-TV showed footage of a fire truck dumping water into a makeshift pool in a parking lot. A different truck would pump water from the pool into hoses.
"There's a hydrant right in front of the building, it's frozen stiff and none of the hydrants out here work, and they're all frozen," Bexar-Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jerry Bialick told WOAI-TV.
Bialick told the station firefighters would use thousands of gallons of water in a matter of minutes.
Neighbors told KENS-TV the building's 130 residents made it out safely.
Biden says he plans to visit Texas and declare major disaster
President Biden says he is making a major disaster declaration for Texas that will clear the way for more federal resources, and he plans to visit the state at a time when he won't be interfering with the disaster response.
The disaster declaration will unlock more Federal Emergency Management Agency resources for Texas. The president said he'll sign the declaration Friday, after he signed an emergency declaration for the state five days ago.
The president also said he plans to visit Texas but wants to wait until his presence won't be a burden or hinder the disaster relief response.
Read more here.
Texas grid operators say electrical system back to normal
Texas' grid operators said Friday that the electrical system has returned to normal.
Smaller outages still remained Friday. But Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, says the grid again has enough capacity to provide power throughout the entire system.
Federal official worried about people staying warm
The acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said he's worried about people staying warm in Texas. With subfreezing temperatures expected Friday night, acting Administrator Bob Fenton urged people to go to shelters or warming stations if they still don't have heat.
"If you're cold, don't stay in your house, go to one of the warming stations," Fenton said on "CBS This Morning."
Fenton said his agency was in the state providing supplies like blankets, fuel, meals and water.
Fenton encouraged people whose property was damaged in the severe weather to go through their insurance provider first before seeking assistance from the federal government. Texans could receive assistance from the government if President Biden issues a major disaster declaration for the state.
Some Texans facing high electric bills
Some Texans are going to be dealing with surprisingly high electric bills.
Most residents enter into one of two types of contracts with energy providers: a higher fixed rate or variable. With variable, customers take the chance and can pay low rates when demand is low and higher rates when demand rises.
Houston resident Meghan O'Neill paid over $2,000 in two days. Her February bill is now more than $3,000.
"It's like, OK, do I feed my family or do I run the heat, which one do I do?" O'Neill said.
Joshua Rhodes, an energy expert at the University of Texas, said that those with fixed rates could also pay more in the future.
"That effect will take later as, you know, utilities and the like assess, you know, how much money that they need to recoup," Rhodes said. "… Eventually the customer always pays, you know, kind of at the end of this."
San Antonio to open water distribution stations
The San Antonio Water System announced Thursday that it will begin providing water distribution at seven pump locations around the city. Residents will receive up to five gallons per person and are advised to boil the water they receive as a precautionary measure.
The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Food Bank will also provide bottled water distribution at sites around the city.
San Antonio has experienced water outages due to the winter weather emergency, and the San Antonio Water System on Wednesday issued a boil water advisory for customers who still have access to water.
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44 deaths tied to the winter storm
As of Friday afternoon, 44 deaths were linked to the severe winter weather across seven states.
The most deaths were recorded in Texas, with 27 residents dying from storm-related incidents. Here's where they occurred: Harris County, which includes Houston, (14), Taylor County (6), Sugarland (4), Galveston County (2) and San Antonio (1).
Earlier this week, a grandmother and three children were killed in a house fire in Sugarland. City officials said the neighborhood had been without power. The cause of the fire is under investigation.