Houston – Millions of people were still without power yesterday in Texas, the oil and gas capital of the United States, and facing water shortages as an unusual winter storm pummelled the south-eastern part of country.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a winter storm warning for a swathe of the country ranging from east Texas to the East Coast state of Maryland.
The NWS said the storm would bring ice, sleet and heavy snow to parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi as it tracks to the north-east, causing power outages, tree damage and making driving hazardous.
It said an Arctic air mass was beginning to lose its grip on an area of the country not used to such extreme cold but the frigid temperatures were expected to continue.
“Temperatures will still remain 20 to 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) below normal throughout the Plains, Mississippi Valley, and lower Great Lakes,” the NWS said.
More than 20 storm-related deaths have been reported in the United States since the cold weather arrived last week, most them in traffic accidents.
Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Texas metropolis of Houston are suffering from both power outages and a loss of water pressure.
“Water pressure is very low,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted. “Please do not run water to keep pipes from bursting.”
Several Texas cities advised residents to boil their water before drinking it or using it for cooking.
David Hernandez, 38, spent the night at a Houston church with other people who have fled their homes.
“My car got stranded and I was trying to sleep in the car but it was just too cold,” Hernandez said. “Liquids in my car were actually turning to ice so it was like sleeping in an ice box.
“I had to come here,” he said. “There’s no choice.”
Derrick Maxwell came to the church with his partner Ariel Edward, their baby and other relatives.
“It was too cold to be home with no food, no water,” Maxwell said. “We couldn’t cook so that’s why we came up here.”
Power companies in Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to avoid grids being overloaded as residents crank up the heat.
According to PowerOutage.US, more than 2.7 million customers were without power yesterday in Texas, the only one of the US’s 48 continental states to have its own independent power grid.
‘Nearly a failed state’
Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic presidential candidate from Texas, told MSNBC television the situation in the “Lone Star State” was “worse than you are hearing.”
“Folks have gone days now without electricity. They’re suffering,” he said.
“So much of this was avoidable,” O’Rourke added.
“The energy capital of North America cannot provide the energy needed to warm and power people’s homes in this great state. We are nearing a failed state in Texas.”
Austin Energy, the local power company in the city of 950,000, said nearly 200,000 area customers were without electricity.
“Customers should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer,” it said.
The energy company published the locations of “warming centres” set up in local schools.
While electricity companies struggle to get power restored, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport resumed flights yesterday after a two-day hiatus caused by heavy snowfall.
Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said the cold weather was impacting delivery and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
“There’s certain parts of the country, Texas being one of them, where vaccination sites are understandably closed,” Zients said.
“What we’re encouraging governors and other partners to do is to extend hours once they’re able to reopen.”
Many weather-related deaths so far have resulted from traffic accidents, but Houston police said a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after sitting in a car in a garage with the engine running to keep warm.
A man in Louisiana died when he hit his head after slipping on ice, and a 10-year-old Tennessee boy perished after he and his six-year-old sister fell through the ice into a pond Sunday.
The winter storm spawned at least four tornadoes, according to Atlanta-based weather.com, including one in North Carolina on Monday that killed at least three people and injured 10.
Across the southern border, Mexican officials said six people died after temperatures plunged. — AFP