Texas authorities have restored statewide electricity, bringing relief after days of unprecedentedly cold temperatures, but millions were still struggling without safe, drinkable water on Saturday.
Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told reporters during a televised briefing, “Due to lack of power, frozen pipes, high use at certain times, we’ve seen the number of systems go up that are reporting (water) issues,”
Water issues, he said, affected about 14.3 million residents out of a total population of about 29 million, as fresh water and food were distributed to thousands of people by officials.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) announced on Friday that utility operations had returned to normal, but as of Saturday, more than 50,000 customers were still without electricity while crews struggled to fix downed lines, according to the poweroutage.us website.
U.S. President Joe Biden released a major disaster alert for 77 of the hardest-hit Texas counties as the extreme toll of the fierce storm grew clearer across the south-central region—about 70 deaths were due to the cold wave.
The Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are approved by that declaration to coordinate disaster relief efforts and accelerate assistance.
The Texas drama marks the first major domestic crisis for Biden. He said he wants to visit the state early next week, but he does not want to divert himself from the efforts to provide relief.
A frequent subject of Republican criticism, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was in Texas on Saturday lending money after raising more than $3.7 million in a few days to aid Texas’ recovery. In Houston, the New York congresswoman said, “This is not just an issue for Texans, this is an issue for our entire country,”
Even with power back and temperatures increasing on Saturday, before consuming it, multiple cities remained under orders to boil water.
As frigid air moved to the north and east on Saturday, Texans were finally seeing the return of warmer temperatures, ranging from just over 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) to the high 70s.
With the snow melted and lights back on, sky-high power bills were expected to be the next hurdle for many Texans, prompting Governor Greg Abbott to meet Saturday with lawmakers to discuss how to ensure residents “are not left with unreasonable utility bills they cannot afford because of the temporary massive spike in the energy market,” according to a readout of the meeting.