Major disaster declaration for Texas over severe winter storm

Nearly half of all Texans still suffering from disruptions to their water services

 A drone view of cars lining up for  water distribution at the Fountain Life Center  in Houston, Texas, on Saturday. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty

A drone view of cars lining up for water distribution at the Fountain Life Center in Houston, Texas, on Saturday. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty

 

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Texas on Saturday as it struggles with the fallout from a winter storm that has killed at least two dozen people and caused widespread blackouts and water shortages.

Millions of residents in the United States’ biggest oil and gas producer have had to contend with days of electricity outages, and nearly half of all Texans are still suffering from disruptions to their water service.

Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, said on Friday that authorities were reporting 10 deaths due to hypothermia.

The action by the Biden administration makes federal funding available to affected individuals, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.

Devin Hodge and Nate Rowe wait in line to fill up their containers with water at Meanwhile Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, on Friday. Photograph: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Devin Hodge and Nate Rowe wait in line to fill up their containers with water at Meanwhile Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, on Friday. Photograph: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Mr Biden is also weighing a trip to Texas to survey 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 acknowledge Mr Biden’s November election win.

Mr Abbott thanked the president for approving the major disaster declaration, saying in a statement it was “an important first step”. But, he added, individual assistance had only been approved for 77 counties, not all the state’s 254 counties, as he had requested.

Outages persist

With all the state’s power plants back online, millions of Texans were finally able to turn on the lights and heat their homes again. However, outages persisted and more than 78,000 homes remained without electricity as of Saturday morning.

With the weather set to improve and temperatures expected to return to normal in the coming days, the main concern has shifted from power to water.

More than 1,200 public water systems have reported service disruptions, many of them leading to boil water notices, said Gary Rasp, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He said 14.3 million people in 190 counties were affected as of Saturday morning.

“I would have rather gone through a hurricane than this freeze,” Jay Farrell, a plumber, told Reuters at his home in Houston.

Empty shelves in the produce section at a grocery store in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday. Photographer: Zach Chambers/Bloomberg
Empty shelves in the produce section at a grocery store in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday. Photographer: Zach Chambers/Bloomberg

Mr Farrell said he has not been able to take showers and for days has been using buckets of water from his hot tub to flush the toilet. As Texas shivered in the dark during the freeze, he said the temperature in his house dropped to 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5.5 Celsius).

In Houston, officials struck a more optimistic tone after power was restored to most residents and with mass distributions of bottled water under way.

“Things are looking up... We are headed in the direction of normalcy,” Ms Hidalgo said in a video address on Friday. “Right now it’s about shifting from response to recovery.” – Reuters