Texas contending with water nightmare on top of power crisis

News

As large parts of Texas woke up Thursday to another day of a power crisis amid extreme winter weather, issues with water systems added to the misery for much of the state’s population.

Texans were under notice to boil tap water before drinking it after days of record low temperatures damaged infrastructure, caused blackouts and froze water pipes.

Millions across the U.S. were left without electricity or heat in the aftermath of the deadly winter storm as utility crews rushed to restore power before another blast of snow and ice this week.

The latest on the storm:

Out of more than a million people in the U.S. who did not have electricity, Texas accounted for nearly half with 511,421, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us. The state dropped below 1 million power outages for the first time Thursday.
In Texas, the extreme weather disrupted water service for more than 12 million residents, forcing many of the more than 680 water systems in the state to issue boil water notices.
Other parts of the country are bracing for snow. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York City and the tristate area are expected to see 6 inches of snow, while Washington, D.C., is expected to get 2 to 4 inches.
At least 37 people have died because of weather-related fatalities since Thursday, the majority in Texas.
Another major winter storm is expected to track from the Lower Mississippi Valley into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast through Friday, the National Weather Service said, bringing more heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain to further complicate recovery efforts.

Travel remains paralyzed across much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights canceled. Many school systems also delayed or canceled face-to-face classes.

However, staying home also carried risks in places without power.

The winter weather has caused blackouts in Texas that affected 1.8 million customers Wednesday night, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. That number was down to just over 511,000 as of 11:28 a.m. local time, the site said.

Without power or heat, some Texans posted videos on social media of them burning old furniture to stay warm. Others shared images of flooding caused by burst pipes and collapsed ceilings.

The extreme winter weather this week and accompanying problems — water facilities without power and lines that broke after freezing — disrupted service for more than 12 million Texans, forcing nearly 680 water systems to issue boil water notices, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Nearly 264,000 Texans live in areas where water systems are completely nonoperational.

In Austin, the city’s electric utility service warned that customers should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer.

A citywide boil water notice was issued late Wednesday after Austin’s largest water treatment facility lost power and water pressure dropped.

One hospital had to transfer some of its most-in-need patients to other facilities and discharge others after losing water pressure, which affected its heating system.

In Houston, more than 1 million people remained without power Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that service would not be restored fully for another couple of days. The city has been under a boil water notice since Wednesday morning.

The city’s public works department has gotten more than 1,500 calls about water leaks and water main breaks since Monday, officials said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on MSNBC that the majority of her community, which includes Houston, is under a water boil notice, “but they don’t have power to boil the water.”

The White House said Wednesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency has supplied generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power to key critical infrastructure, including hospitals. Press secretary Jen Psaki said FEMA was also supplying Texas with water and blankets.

Galveston had broken water lines across the island because of freezing temperatures and is under a boil water notice. The city of 50,000 said with power off for so long, there had been an “unprecedented” number of broken pipes in homes.

“Now that power is slowly coming back on and temperatures are rising, we are experiencing a massive amount of water damage to homes and businesses,” the city said in a statement.

Freezing overnight temperatures are expected to continue for days in parts of Texas. Southeast Texas isn’t expected to see highs in the 50s until Saturday during the day, according to the the Weather Service.

Even after the power is restored and the ice begins to melt, each water system will need bacteriological sampling to clear those boil water notices, the state’s environmental quality commission said.

Sampling can take up to 24 hours, and the state will work to get help from neighboring states, according to the agency.

In places with water, the cold temperatures with lack of power have caused pipes to burst in homes.

“We literally just got our power back a half-hour ago after 61 long hours of freezing in this house,” Stacey Silverman of Dallas said Wednesday in an interview with Peacock’s Zerlina Maxwell.

Silverman’s 79-year-old mother has been staying in the house because her pipes burst in the cold and flooded her home.

She blamed the state for what she said was years of neglect and underinvestment. “This is not a natural disaster, what happened,” she said. “Our state government has completely failed us.”

Water shortages are affecting other states, too.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals, and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Nearly 115 million people, from the southern Plains to New England, are bracing for snow fall Thursday and Friday.

About a half foot of snow is expected to hit Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, NBC Boston reported. New York City and the tristate area are also expected to see 6 inches of snow, while Washington, D.C., is expected to get 2 to 4 inches.

Storms have played a role in at least 37 deaths in eight states, including deaths from traffic crashes. Three people were killed in a tornado in North Carolina on Monday, and a woman and child died in Houston on Tuesday from carbon monoxide poisoning after using their car for heat because their home was without power, officials said.

Three deaths in Louisiana were blamed on the winter storm, including a 50-year-old man who slipped and fell on black ice, the health department said.