Power Comes Back in Texas, but Water Systems Are Crippled

Here’s what you need to know: Ben Lozano cleaned up his garage on Thursday after a pipe burst behind his washing machine in Austin, Texas.Credit...Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times The end of frigid conditions across Texas is in sight on Friday, but many residents who fled their homes this week in search of warm beds and showers of any temperature are only now discovering the extent of the winter storm’s destruction. After spending five straight days inside the hospital where she works as a phone operator, Kendall McKee was greeted by a neighbor on Thursday when she returned to her building in West Houston. “I knew right away something was wrong,” said Ms. McKee, 36. Entering her apartment was a familiar experience, she said. She felt saturated carpet squish between her feet, saw puddles on the floor, wondered about the source of the water. Four years ago, her mother’s Houston apartment was flooded by Hurricane Harvey. “I’m not losing everything, the way my mom lost a ton of stuff during Harvey,” she said. “But it’s still — I don’t know, I don’t really even know what I lost yet.” The National Weather Service projects high temperatures in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to reach the mid-40s on Friday, before rising into the 50s on Saturday and the 60s on Sunday. Nights may still produce lows around freezing. But as frozen pipes thaw, residents already reeling from the arctic blast may face significant property damage. Already, state officials are preparing for many requests for help. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said he would ease restrictions for out-of-state plumbers and those with expired licenses. Others are urging residents to do what they can to prevent leaks, including shutting off the main water line to their homes. About 13 million Texans were being told on Thursday to boil their water for safety reasons, and cities across the state were opening water distribution sites. Along with broken pipes inside homes, water providers will have to grapple with substantial damage to the main water lines that run through neighborhoods, W. Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at a news conference. Ms. McKee said she would be able to stay at her mother’s house as she surveyed the damage in her apartment and tried to contact her rental insurance provider. “I was just looking forward to sleeping on my bed again,” she said. Video transcript Back bars 0:00/1:44 -0:00 transcript Abbott Says Power Is Being Restored but Water Remains a Challenge Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Thursday that access to clean water remained a problem even as power was restored. He plans to ask for a major federal disaster declaration to release emergency funds. Since our press conference yesterday, power has been restored to nearly two million homes across Texas. There continue to be approximately 325,000 Texans without power. However, those without power are not without power because of the lack of ability to generate power. Instead, those without power are being impacted either by power lines that are down or the need to manually reconnect the premises to power. I also had a call earlier today with water providers to work on additional ways to expedite getting clean water to Texas. We are in the process, as we speak, of evaluating waivers, as well as executive orders, that can be used to speed up that process. I am making a formal request of the president for a major disaster declaration. If granted, this will give Texans the ability to apply for individual assistance from FEMA. That individual assistance will assist them with funding to restore damage to their homes to the extent that it is not covered by private insurance. Now, we know because of the storm that will continue to sweep across parts of Texas tonight that we are not yet out of this, but we’re closer to this challenge being behind us. We will not stop until normalcy is restored to your lives. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Thursday that access to clean water remained a problem even as power was restored. He plans to ask for a major federal disaster declaration to release emergency funds.CreditCredit...David J. Phillip/Associated PressAs power began to flicker back on across much of Texas, millions across the state confronted another dire crisis: a shortage of drinkable water as pipes cracked, wells froze and water treatment plants were knocked offline. The problems were especially acute at hospitals. One, in Austin, was forced to move some of its most critically ill patients to another building when its faucets ran nearly dry. Another in Houston had to haul in water on trucks to flush toilets. But for many of the state’s residents stuck at home, the emergency meant boiling the tap water that trickled through their faucets, scouring stores for bottled water or boiling icicles and dirty snow on their stoves. For others, it meant no water at all. Denise Gonzalez, 40, ha

Power Comes Back in Texas, but Water Systems Are Crippled
Here’s what you need to know: Ben Lozano cleaned up his garage on Thursday after a pipe burst behind his washing machine in Austin, Texas.Credit...Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times The end of frigid conditions across Texas is in sight on Friday, but many residents who fled their homes this week in search of warm beds and showers of any temperature are only now discovering the extent of the winter storm’s destruction. After spending five straight days inside the hospital where she works as a phone operator, Kendall McKee was greeted by a neighbor on Thursday when she returned to her building in West Houston. “I knew right away something was wrong,” said Ms. McKee, 36. Entering her apartment was a familiar experience, she said. She felt saturated carpet squish between her feet, saw puddles on the floor, wondered about the source of the water. Four years ago, her mother’s Houston apartment was flooded by Hurricane Harvey. “I’m not losing everything, the way my mom lost a ton of stuff during Harvey,” she said. “But it’s still — I don’t know, I don’t really even know what I lost yet.” The National Weather Service projects high temperatures in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to reach the mid-40s on Friday, before rising into the 50s on Saturday and the 60s on Sunday. Nights may still produce lows around freezing. But as frozen pipes thaw, residents already reeling from the arctic blast may face significant property damage. Already, state officials are preparing for many requests for help. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said he would ease restrictions for out-of-state plumbers and those with expired licenses. Others are urging residents to do what they can to prevent leaks, including shutting off the main water line to their homes. About 13 million Texans were being told on Thursday to boil their water for safety reasons, and cities across the state were opening water distribution sites. Along with broken pipes inside homes, water providers will have to grapple with substantial damage to the main water lines that run through neighborhoods, W. Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at a news conference. Ms. McKee said she would be able to stay at her mother’s house as she surveyed the damage in her apartment and tried to contact her rental insurance provider. “I was just looking forward to sleeping on my bed again,” she said. Video transcript Back bars 0:00/1:44 -0:00 transcript Abbott Says Power Is Being Restored but Water Remains a Challenge Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Thursday that access to clean water remained a problem even as power was restored. He plans to ask for a major federal disaster declaration to release emergency funds. Since our press conference yesterday, power has been restored to nearly two million homes across Texas. There continue to be approximately 325,000 Texans without power. However, those without power are not without power because of the lack of ability to generate power. Instead, those without power are being impacted either by power lines that are down or the need to manually reconnect the premises to power. I also had a call earlier today with water providers to work on additional ways to expedite getting clean water to Texas. We are in the process, as we speak, of evaluating waivers, as well as executive orders, that can be used to speed up that process. I am making a formal request of the president for a major disaster declaration. If granted, this will give Texans the ability to apply for individual assistance from FEMA. That individual assistance will assist them with funding to restore damage to their homes to the extent that it is not covered by private insurance. Now, we know because of the storm that will continue to sweep across parts of Texas tonight that we are not yet out of this, but we’re closer to this challenge being behind us. We will not stop until normalcy is restored to your lives. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Thursday that access to clean water remained a problem even as power was restored. He plans to ask for a major federal disaster declaration to release emergency funds.CreditCredit...David J. Phillip/Associated PressAs power began to flicker back on across much of Texas, millions across the state confronted another dire crisis: a shortage of drinkable water as pipes cracked, wells froze and water treatment plants were knocked offline. The problems were especially acute at hospitals. One, in Austin, was forced to move some of its most critically ill patients to another building when its faucets ran nearly dry. Another in Houston had to haul in water on trucks to flush toilets. But for many of the state’s residents stuck at home, the emergency meant boiling the tap water that trickled through their faucets, scouring stores for bottled water or boiling icicles and dirty snow on their stoves. For others, it meant no water at all. Denise Gonzalez, 40, had joined a crowd at a makeshift relief center in a working-class corner of West Dallas on Thursday where volunteers handed out food from the luggage compartment of a charter bus. Back at her apartment, she said, the lights were finally back on. But her pipes were frozen solid. She could not bathe, shower or use the toilet. She said she had been calling plumbers all day, but one of the few who answered told her it would be $3,000 to come out to assess the damage. “If I had $3,000,” Ms. Gonzalez said, “I wouldn’t be getting food from people on the bus.” Major disruptions to the Texas power grid left more than four million households without power this week, but by Friday morning, only about 200,000 lacked electricity. Much of the statewide concern had turned to water woes. More than 800 public water systems serving 162 of the state’s 254 counties had been disrupted as of Thursday, affecting 13.1 million people, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The problems with water infrastructure extended to Tennessee on Friday, when all passenger flights at Memphis International Airport were canceled because of low water pressure, the facility announced. Video Days of freezing temperatures and power outages left many Texans facing long lines and sparsely stocked shelves at grocery stores, with more cold weather forecast for the coming days.CreditCredit...Mark Felix for The New York TimesA brutal winter storm has battered large parts of the Central and Southern United States, forcing millions of people to search for the basics for survival — food, water and shelter from record cold. President Biden has declared emergencies in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and vowed to send aid. Nonprofit organizations are also at work trying to address the humanitarian crisis created by the storm. Here is how you can help. Texas The Houston Food Bank is collecting donations to help feed people. A total of 150 meals can be provided with a donation of $50, the organization says. The Austin Disaster Relief Network is accepting donations in order to provide people with emergency housing, gift cards, and supplies for short- as well as long-term needs. Getting food to people in need can be difficult, especially when the bitter cold strains local energy grids. Organizations that are on the ground and helping feed people include the North Texas Food Bank; the San Antonio Food Bank, which serves southwestern Texas; and Feeding Texas, which partners with nearly two dozen food banks throughout the state. Front Steps, an Austin-based organization working to end homelessness, is running a blanket drive. Instead of “blessing bags, snack bars, etc.,” the group notes that blankets have a “lasting impact.” The group says that acrylic blankets are preferred (wool may irritate damaged skin and cotton easily retains moisture). In Lewisville, about 25 miles north of Dallas, the Salvation Army is looking for food and supplies, including gloves, towels, soap and moisturizer. Oklahoma The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma is asking for donations so it can operate its day shelter and extend its street outreach efforts. According to the organization, it can provide a week’s worth of lunches to a person at its day shelter with a donation of $4. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has an ongoing call for financial contributions, as well as donations of nonperishables and dry goods. Louisiana The Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness & Housing, which serves eight parishes in the state, is seeking donations to both its general fund and its emergency hotel shelter fund. According to the Foodbank of Northeast Louisiana, one in five people in its area faces hunger. The organization says it can help provide 55 meals with each donation of $10. Before you donate … Make sure to research any organization on trusted sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar, which rate nonprofits based on their effectiveness and financial condition. These sites can also show whether the organization’s goals and practices align with your values and beliefs. The Internal Revenue Service’s database can tell you if the organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. After disasters like crippling storms, there is often an increase in fraudulent activity. If you suspect an organization or person may be committing fraud, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud. Manessa Grady and her sons Zechariah, 8, left, and Noah, 9, were among the millions of Texas residents who lost power this week.Credit...Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same. Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, said on Thursday that Texas was “seconds and minutes” from a catastrophic blackout this week as rotating outages were used to control the flow of electricity. The country’s two largest states have taken very different approaches to managing their energy needs — Texas deregulated aggressively, letting the free market flourish, while California embraced environmental regulations. Yet the two states are confronting the same ominous reality: They may be woefully unprepared for the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters caused by climate change. Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere. The problems in Texas and California highlight the challenge the Biden administration will face in modernizing the electricity system to run entirely on wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and other zero-emission technologies by 2035 — a goal that President Biden set during the 2020 campaign. The federal government and energy businesses may have to spend trillions of dollars to harden electricity grids against the threat posed by climate change and to move away from the fossil fuels responsible for the warming of the planet in the first place. These are not new ideas. Scholars have long warned that American electricity grids, which are run regionally, will come under increasing strain and needed major upgrades. “We really need to change our paradigm, particularly utilities, because they are becoming much more vulnerable to disaster,” Najmedin Meshkati, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, said about blackouts in Texas and California. “They need to always think about literally the worst-case scenario because the worst-case scenario is going to happen.” Vaccines were still being administered on Thursday at a community center in the Bronx.Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times Just as coronavirus vaccine distribution was beginning to gather steam in the United States, brutal winter weather delayed the delivery of hundreds of thousands of doses across the country. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments and deliveries because of weather affecting a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS facility in Louisville, both vaccine shipping hubs. Now those projections appear to be coming true. Shipment delays have been reported in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Utah and Washington, among other states, forcing vaccine sites to temporarily shutter and coveted appointments to be rescheduled. In Texas, where millions of residents lost power during this week’s powerful storm, a delivery of more than 400,000 first doses and 330,000 second doses was delayed in anticipation of the bad weather. A portion of those shots, roughly 35,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, were sent to North Texas providers on Wednesday, but shipments will continue to depend on safety conditions. Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Thursday that the state was “asking providers that aren’t able to store vaccine due to power outages to transfer it elsewhere or administer it so it doesn’t spoil.” On Monday, health officials in Texas scrambled to get more than 5,000 shots into arms after a power outage in a storage facility where they were being kept. But Mr. Van Deusen said that “reports of vaccine spoiling have been minimal.” The Houston Health Department said Thursday that it would restart vaccinations for second doses this weekend, and schedule additional first and second dose appointments next week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said more than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Thursday that “a vast majority of the resupply we expected for this week has not shipped from the factories yet.” The city has had to hold off on scheduling upward of 35,000 appointments for first vaccine doses because of shipment delays and vaccine shortages. The opening of two new distribution sites was also postponed. In Los Angeles, the city said that appointments for about 12,500 would be delayed. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said that while 136,000 Pfizer doses had arrived this week, the state had still not received its shipment for the week of 200,000 Moderna doses. He said the shipment could be delayed as late as Monday. “Because the storms we are seeing in the rest of the country, it’s basically sitting in the FedEx warehouse — and I don’t think they can even get into it because of everything,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday, encouraging those who had appointments rescheduled to “hang in there, the doses are going to get here.” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, called the weather delay “significant.” “Well, obviously it’s an issue,” he told MSNBC on Thursday. “It’s been slowed down in some places, going to a grinding halt.” Dr. Fauci said, “We’re just going to have to make up for it as soon as the weather lifts a bit, the ice melts and we can get the trucks out and the people out. We’re going to just have to make up for it, namely do double time when this thing clears up.” Video transcript Back bars 0:00/0:37 -0:00 transcript Ted Cruz Leaves Mexico Amid Winter Emergency in Texas Senator Ted Cruz of Texas flew home from a vacation to Mexico after receiving heavy criticism for leaving the state while millions have struggled with a lack of electricity and water after a brutal winter storm. Keep working to get the grid reopened, to get power restored, get water back on. A lot of Texans are hurting, and this crisis is frustrating. It’s frustrating for millions of Texans, it shouldn’t happen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas flew home from a vacation to Mexico after receiving heavy criticism for leaving the state while millions have struggled with a lack of electricity and water after a brutal winter storm.CreditCredit...ReutersLike millions of his constituents across Texas, Senator Ted Cruz had a frigid home without electricity this week amid the state’s power crisis. But unlike most, Mr. Cruz got out, fleeing Houston and hopping a Wednesday afternoon flight to Cancún with his family for a respite at a luxury resort. Photos of Mr. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, boarding the flight ricocheted quickly across social media and left both his political allies and rivals aghast at a tropical trip as a disaster unfolded at home. The blowback only intensified after Mr. Cruz, a Republican, released a statement saying he had flown to Mexico “to be a good dad” and accompany his daughters and their friends; he noted he was flying back Thursday afternoon, though he did not disclose how long he had originally intended to stay. Text messages sent from Ms. Cruz to friends and Houston neighbors on Wednesday revealed a hastily planned trip. Their house was “FREEZING,” as Ms. Cruz put it — and she proposed a getaway until Sunday. Ms. Cruz invited others to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún, where they had stayed “many times,” noting the room price this week ($309 per night) and its good security. The text messages were provided to The New York Times and confirmed by a second person on the thread, who declined to be identified because of the private nature of the texts. For more than 12 hours after the airport departure photos first emerged, Mr. Cruz’s office declined to comment on his whereabouts. The Houston police confirmed that the senator’s office had sought their assistance for his airport trip on Wednesday, and eventually Mr. Cruz was spotted wheeling his suitcase in Mexico on Thursday as he returned to the state he represents in the Senate. As the Cruzes were away, millions of Texans were still without electricity, many had no running water and the icy air that swept into the state was so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated to send supplies, including generators. Some searched neighborhoods for discarded fallen trees to burn for warmth. “What’s happening in Texas is unacceptable,” Mr. Cruz told a television crew at the Cancún airport. He was wearing a Texas state flag mask and a short-sleeved polo shirt tucked into his jeans; the temperature in Cancún was above 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, and in the 30s in Houston. After landing back in the United States, Mr. Cruz offered a new statement with a different tone from earlier in the day, when he had tried to explain the vacation without regrets and left the impression that it might have always been a one-day trip for him. Speaking to reporters after his arrival home, he conceded that the trip was “obviously a mistake” and said he had begun having “second thoughts” as soon as he boarded the plane to Mexico intent on a few days of remote work in the sun. “The plan had been to stay through the weekend with the family,” he said, framing the decision as a parent’s attempt to placate his two daughters, ages 10 and 12, after a “tough week.” “On the one hand, all of us who are parents have a responsibility to take care of our kids, take care of our families,” Mr. Cruz said. “But I also have a responsibility that I take very seriously of fighting for the state of Texas.” Natural gas flares at a facility near Coyanosa, Texas, in August. In 2019, 96 percent of Mexico’s natural gas imports were from the United States.Credit...Jessica Lutz for The New York Times The Mexican government said on Thursday that it was working to reverse an order from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to restrict natural gas exports, part of that state’s effort to resolve widespread power outages that have left millions of Texans without electricity in the middle of a deadly winter storm. Mr. Abbott’s order has heightened tensions between the two countries, with top Mexican officials protesting the governor’s decision to cut off gas supplies just as Mexico works to resolve its own mass power outages as a result of the frigid weather. “We are doing our diplomatic work so that this doesn’t happen,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said at a news conference on Thursday, referring to Mr. Abbott’s order. “This wouldn’t just affect Mexico — it would also affect other states in the Union.” Mr. Abbott on Wednesday ordered Texas producers who were exporting natural gas out of state to instead sell to in-state power generators until Sunday. The fallout south of the border from Mr. Abbott’s measure underscored the extent to which Mexico relies on the United States for much of its power, even as Mr. López Obrador pushes for greater Mexican energy sovereignty. Gas-fired plants generate about two-thirds of Mexico’s power. In 2019, 96 percent of natural gas imports were from the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The arctic weather in Texas froze natural-gas pipelines between the two countries, according to Mexican energy officials, which, coupled with a surge in demand for gas in the United States, disrupted energy production across northern Mexico and left almost five million customers in Mexico without power earlier this week. The mass outages affected not just private homes but also industry, with major manufacturers like General Motors and Volkswagen forced to halt operations, leading to an estimated $2.7 billion in losses, according to Reuters. On Thursday, Mexico’s state energy company, the Federal Electricity Commission, or C.F.E., said it had restored power to all users by generating energy from other sources, including hydroelectric and coal-fired plants. This latest outage comes on the heels of one in December that briefly left about 10 million people without electricity. — Oscar Lopez