Texas water nightmare adds to power crisis as new winter storm moves in

As large parts of Texas wake up to another day of a power crisis amid still-frigid winter weather, issues with water systems added to the misery for much of the state's population.

Scores of Texans were under notices to boil tap water before drinking it after days of record low temperatures that 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.

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.

But staying home carried risks too in places without power.

The winter weather has caused blackouts in Texas that affected 1.8 million customers Wednesday night, according to tracking website poweroutage.us. That number was down to 630,000 as of 7 a.m. E.T., 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 earlier this week and accompanying problems — water facilities without power and lines that have broken due to freezing — have forced 276 water systems to issue boil water notices, according to Toby Baker, executive director for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Nearly 264,000 Texans live in areas where water systems are completely non-operational.

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

A city-wide boil water notice was issued late Wednesday due to power loss at Austin's largest water treatment facility and a drop in water pressure.

One of the local hospitals had to transfer some of its most-in-need patients to other facilities and discharge others after losing water pressure, which has impacted its heating system.

In Houston, more than 1 million people remained without power Wednesday, city mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that the power 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."

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 that 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, the weather service in Houston said.

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, Baker of the commission on environmental quality said.

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

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.

Among the millions struggling to stay warm as a winter storm continues to hammer Texas, is Stacey Silverman from Dallas.

After 61 hours with no power and freezing temps in her house – she joins @ZerlinaMaxwell to talk about how the storm has impacted her family: pic.twitter.com/5H5NEhTxHr

— Zerlina on Peacock (@ZerlinaShow) February 18, 2021

Nearly 115 million people, from the southern Plains to New England, were still under winter alerts as of Wednesday evening.

Storms have played a role in at least 35 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 due to carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was used for heat in a home 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.

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