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Frigid temperatures devastate Texas power grid as death toll climbs

Houston — The winter weather emergency in Texas and much of the South is getting worse, with millions facing yet another night in the dark with no heat and no clean water. This relentless winter blast is blamed for at least 24 deaths this week. One-third of Americans are in the path of a second winter storm, with the snow and ice headed to the East Coast.

Families in Houston and all over Texas are doing anything to stay warm, sometimes making deadly choices. 911 calls are up throughout Texas. Hospitals have treated hundreds for exposure to the cold and for carbon monoxide poisoning as Texans fire up generators and stay in their cars to keep warm.

Frustration is boiling over as utilities scramble to try to restore power. As officials point fingers, one thing is clear: Texas did not weather-proof many of its power generating facilities or pipelines, despite being hit by a similar freeze about a decade ago.

More than 2.5 million are in the dark with no heat for a third day. Frozen pipes are bursting, flooding homes and businesses. One Dallas apartment building had icicles inside. So many pipes have now burst, Texas' governor is asking for help from out-of-state plumbers as many counties warn their water could be contaminated and needs to be boiled.

Texas winter storm
People wait in line to fill propane tanks on February 17, 2021, in Houston. David J. Phillip / AP

Steven and Laura Dandrige told CBS News that they would have never expected these conditions in the Lone Star State. They have been living in the dark and cold for most of the past three days with their 1-year-old son Bobby.

A boil water order has been issued for all of Houston and dozens of cities. However, in hard-hit areas, there is no water to boil because the taps are dry. Almost half of the state's 254 counties are experiencing water woes.

Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo compared it to Hurricane Harvey in 2017. "This is very different from Harvey, but the scope of the impact is absolutely equivalent and it's something that is impacting not just the millions of people here in Harris County, but all throughout Texas," Hidalgo said.

The South braces for more freezing temperatures 01:19

Desperate to stay warm, hundreds have been taken to hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning, sometimes caused by bringing a grill inside or keeping a car running in a garage.

Three children and their grandmother died in a house fire, who authorities say had been using a fireplace overnight.

In the search for food, there were lines to get into grocery stores that had empty shelves. There was even a run on gasoline.

Questions continue to mount about whether ERCOT — the utility overseeing the Texas grid — was ready.

"I'm sure as we review this, when it's over, we're going to find things we wish we'd done better," ERCOT's CEO Bill Magness said. "Right now, the number one priority is getting people's power back on, getting that service restored."

But that isn't happening quickly and local officials are warning that the outages could last through the weekend.

Texas never had a contingency plan for the entire state being under a winter storm warning. The Texas agriculture commissioner issued a red alert on Wednesday, saying grocery store shelves are empty and they're looking at a food supply chain problem like they've never seen before.

Texas governor details plan to restore power as millions suffer through brutal winter storm 15:46

Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday detailed his plans to restore power to millions of residents. He said nearly 40,000 megawatts of power remain offline, due to mechanical problems, lack of gas and weather issues. But he said that as of midnight, 6,000 megawatts — enough to provide power to about 1.2 million homes have been added to the grid.

The governor also announced that he has signed an order that will stop businesses from selling natural gas outside of the state, and will instead mandate that the fuel be sold to in-state power generators.

Meanwhile, the CDC is warning that the winter storm means widespread COVID vaccine delays — just as vaccinations were picking up pace. Shipments are running as many as 48 hours behind schedule. In Texas, only 9% of those doses the state was expecting this week have been shipped. Moderna Inc. has been unable to ship any doses to Texas due to the storm.

Mola Lenghi contributed to this report.

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