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Deadly storm that left millions in Texas without power spreads into New England and Deep South

Death toll rises as storms knock out power
Death toll rises as storms knock out power 02:59

A massive deadly winter storm that caused power outages in Texas and immobilized the Southern Plains was carrying heavy snow and freezing rain eastward with bad weather spreading into New England and the Deep South, the National Weather Service said. Millions of people remained without power amid subfreezing temperatures, and authorities warned of treacherous travel conditions in many states.

A motorist digs a path for his car February 16, 2021, to enter an unplowed side street in the Bronzeville neighborhood of the South Side of Chicago.
A motorist digs a path for his car February 16, 2021, in Chicago. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

The weather also threatened to affect the nation's COVID-19 vaccination effort. President Biden's administration said delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries were likely.

Wind-chill warnings extended from Canada into Mexico. In Chicago, a foot and a half of new snow forced public schools to cancel in-person classes for Tuesday. Hours earlier, along the normally balmy Gulf of Mexico, cross-country skier Sam Fagg hit fresh powder on the beach in Galveston, Texas.

The worst U.S. power outages were in Texas, affecting more than four million homes and businesses. More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another quarter of a million were still without electricity following an ice storm in northwest Oregon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports. Four million people lost power in Mexico.

Texas officials requested 60 generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and planned to prioritize hospitals and nursing homes. The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.

More than 500 people sought comfort at one shelter in Houston. Mayor Sylvester Turner said other warming centers had to be shut down because they lost power.

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts as cold temperatures strained power grids.

Texas is the only state in the continental U.S. that has its own power grid, which is not subject to federal regulation, CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca reports. "Everyone is working feverishly around the clock to restore this electricity because we understand that that electricity is the stuff of life," Andrew Barlow with the state's Public Utility Commission told Villafranca.

Blackouts of more than an hour began around dawn Tuesday for Oklahoma City and more than a dozen other communities. The blackouts stopped electric-powered space heaters, furnaces and lights just as temperatures hovered around minus 8 degrees.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric rescinded plans for further blackouts but urged users to set thermostats at 68 degrees, avoid using major electric appliances and turn off lights or appliances they are not using.

Nebraska's blackouts came amid some of the coldest weather on record: In Omaha, the temperature bottomed out at 23 degrees below zero overnight, the coldest in 25 years.

The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, said the blackouts were "a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole."

Millions in Texas lose power during major win... 06:24

The outages forced a Texas county to scramble to get more than 8,000 doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine into arms after a public health facility lost power early Monday and its backup generator also failed, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

County officials distributed the doses at three hospitals, Rice University and the county jail because those places had large groups of people in places where they would not have to drive and with appropriate medical personnel on hand.

"It feels amazing. I'm very grateful," said Harry Golen, a 19-year-old sophomore who waited for nearly four hours with his friends, much of it in the cold. He was among the last people to get the shots, which otherwise would not have reached students until March or April.

Texas officials said more than 400,000 additional doses due now will not arrive until at least Wednesday because of the storm.

In North Carolina, the National Weather Service's office in Wilmington dispatched a team to confirm that a tornado did indeed touch down and to survey damage in Brunswick County, said Mark Willis, the office's meteorologist in charge.

Three people died and at least 10 were injured when the apparent tornado tore through a golf course community and another rural area just before midnight Monday, destroying dozens of homes. The county's emergency services director told reporters Tuesday afternoon there were no reports of anyone missing.

"The sky lit up and there was a lot of pop-pop-popping. And the loud thunder. And then it sounded like a train, a freight train coming through. ... That's when all the damage occurred," said Sharon Benson, 63. She said her roof was damaged and her garage door blown off. Windows were shattered and nearby trees were uprooted.

Authorities in multiple states reported crashes on icy roads, including two people in Kentucky who died in separate crashes on Monday, Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said.

Deaths in Texas included a woman and a girl who died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston, at a home without electricity from a car running in an attached garage, police said.

In west Tennessee, a 10-year-old boy died after falling into an ice-covered pond on Sunday during a winter storm, fire officials said.

Several cities had record lows: In Minnesota, the Hibbing/Chisholm weather station registered minus 38 degrees. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dropped to minus 26.

Air travel was also affected. At midday Tuesday, more than 2,700 U.S. flights had been canceled, led by more than 800 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and more than 700 at Bush Intercontinental in Houston.

Most government offices and schools were closed for Presidents Day, and authorities pleaded with residents to stay home Tuesday as well. About 100 school systems closed, delayed opening or switched to remote classes on Tuesday in Alabama, where forecasters said conditions might not improve in some places until temperatures rise above freezing Wednesday afternoon.

Louisiana state police reported investigating nearly 75 weather-related crashes caused by a mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain in the past 24 hours.

Northern Louisiana was in the bullseye for the highest amounts of freezing rain from the incoming system, forecasters said Tuesday, and more than a foot of snow was possible in Arkansas, according to the federal Weather Prediction Center.

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