US President Joe Biden on Saturday approved a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state grapples with the fallout from a winter storm that has killed at least two dozen people and caused blackouts and shortages widespread water.
Millions of residents of America’s largest oil and gas producer have faced days of power outages, and nearly half of all Texans still suffer from disruptions to their water service.
Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston, said on Friday authorities were reporting 10 deaths from hypothermia. Officials said a specific death would take time to establish.
The Biden administration’s action is making federal funding available to those affected, including help with temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.
Biden is also considering a trip to Texas to study the federal response to the first new crisis to develop since he took office a month ago.
The White House is working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially recognize Biden’s victory in the November election.
Abbott thanked the president for endorsing the declaration of major disaster, saying in a statement it was “an important first step.” But, he added, individual assistance had only been approved for 77 counties, not all of the state’s 254 counties as he had requested.
FROM RESPONSE TO RECOVERY
With all of the state’s power plants back on stream, millions of Texans were finally able to turn on the lights and heat their homes again. However, the blackouts persisted and more than 78,000 homes were left without power on Saturday morning.
As the weather is expected to improve and temperatures are expected to return to normal in the coming days, the main concern has shifted from electricity to water.
More than 1,200 public water systems have reported service outages, many resulting in boil water advisories, said Gary Rasp, spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ .) He said 14.3 million people in 190 counties were affected on Saturday morning.
Toby Baker, executive director of TCEQ, said the agency would conduct a comprehensive review of regulations governing the state’s water systems.
“I am not aware that I have ever encountered problems of this magnitude from the point of view of the water system in the history of the state,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. . “We will take full advantage of this event to learn.”
At his home in Houston, plumber Jay Farrell said he “would rather have been through a hurricane than this frost.”
Farrell said he was unable to take a shower and had been using buckets of water from his hot tub for days to flush the toilet. As Texas shook in the dark during the frost, he said the temperature in his home dropped to 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5.5 Celsius).
In Houston, officials adopted a more optimistic tone after power returned to most residents and with massive bottled water distributions underway.
“Things are improving … We are heading towards normality,” Hidalgo said in a video speech on Friday. “For now, it’s about moving from response to recovery.”
Meanwhile, Abbott said he was calling an emergency meeting with officials on Saturday to discuss the rising energy bills received by many residents as a result of the power outages.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, has come under fire after the electricity grid collapsed as demand increased during the freeze.
Abbott criticized ERCOT last week, saying the company told officials before the storm that the network was prepared.
A lawsuit against ERCOT was filed in Nueces County Court in Corpus Christi on Friday, alleging that the council had ignored the warnings and taken action to address weaknesses in the electrical infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has directed ERCOT and other utilities for civil investigations into power outages, contingency plans, energy prices and more related to winter weather conditions.
In a Friday statement, Paxton said the companies had “gravely mismanaged” the weather emergency and vowed “to get to the bottom of this blackout.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)