Biden declares Texas major disaster after winter storm kills 69 & leaves millions without clean water, power or heat

THE winter storm death toll continues to mount as millions of Americans are thrust into third-world conditions amid widespread power outages and contaminated tap water.

At least 69 people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, car crashes, house fires, and drownings, among other tragedies related to the freak weather in Texas and neighboring states. 

The White House announced on Saturday that the president has declared a major disaster in Texas, and he has asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to address the suffering.

Joe Biden earlier declared states of emergency in Oklahoma and Louisiana.

The president said Friday that he hopes to travel to Texas next week but doesn’t want his presence and the accompanying entourage to distract from the recovery.

“They’re working like the devil to take care of their folks,” Biden said of Texas officials.

He said he’d make a decision early next week about travel.

In Texas, seven million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — remain under orders to boil tap water before drinking it because low water pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system.

About 260,000 homes and businesses in the Tennessee county that includes Memphis were told to boil water because of water main ruptures and pumping station problems, AP reports.

Restaurants that can’t do so or don’t have bottled water were ordered to close.

And water pressure problems prompted Memphis International Airport to cancel all incoming and outgoing Friday flights.

In Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of about 161,000 had no running water.

Crews pumped water to refill city tanks but faced a shortage of chemicals for treatment because icy roads made it difficult for distributors to deliver them, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

He said the city’s water mains are more than 100 years old and not built to handle the freezing weather that hit the city as multiple storms dumped record amounts of snow across the South.

“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” said Lumumba.

The city was providing water for flushing toilets and drinking, but residents had to pick it up, leaving the elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.

The water woes were the latest misery for people across the South who went without heat or electricity for days after the ice and snow storms earlier in the week, forcing rolling blackouts from Minnesota to Texas.

Texas electrical grid operators said electricity transmission had returned to normal for the first time since historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up home — buckling the state’s power grid and causing the widespread blackouts.

Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the grid now can provide power throughout the entire system.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure for a state known as the U.S. energy capital. ERCOT officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin forced outages Monday as the grid reached a breaking point.

The storms also left more than 330,000 from Virginia to Louisiana without power. About 60,000 in Oregon on Friday were still enduring a weeklong outage following a massive ice and snow storm. Oregon’s governor ordered the National Guard to go door-to-door in the hardest-hit areas to ensure residents have enough food and water.

The extreme weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 69 people, including many who perished struggling to get warm and a Tennessee farmer who tried to save two calves that apparently wandered onto a frozen pond.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cristian Pavon, 11, was reportedly found unresponsive by his mother Maria Elisa Pineda under a pile of blankets in his bed inside their unheated Texas home.

The little boy was pronounced dead later that day, Univision reported.

“He was okay,” Pineda told the TV station about her son's state prior to his death. “He had dinner, he played and he went to bed.”

Authorities are now investigating whether the otherwise healthy boy died of hypothermia after the mobile home in Conroe lost power over the weekend.

The boy had been excited to see snow for the first time after he moved to Texas from Honduras in 2019 to live with his mom, she said.

Home video footage shows him playing in the snow Monday less than 24 hours before his tragic death.

The incident occurred as temperatures dipped to single digits in Texas earlier this week, according to the Washington Post.

Carrol Anderson, 75, who used oxygen tanks to help him breathe, was found dead inside his truck on Tuesday after his home lost power and his main tank ran out of charge.

His stepdaughter believes he went outside to get a spare oxygen tank in his pickup truck outside his home in Crosby, Texas, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Anderson, an Army veteran, was one of at least 58 people who have died in and around Texas and other freezing areas up to Ohio.

News of the storm fatalities comes as:

  • Ted Cruz's texts show wife wanted to flee 'freezing Texas'
  • 500,000 left without power as hospitals evacuated
  • Texas fountain freezes over during wild snowstorm
  • Mom reveals how wild winter storm FROZE goldfish
  • TX mayor Tim Boyd quits after calling storm-hit residents ‘lazy’ 

Public officials are also warning Texans about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, citing an alarming spike in emergency room visits due to the dangerous, scentless gas.

Most cases were caused by the indoor use of heating sources like charcoal barbecues and gas-powered generators. These machines release carbon monoxide that, if not used in a well-ventilated area, can be fatal in minutes.

Two people including a seven-year-old girl in Houston died, and another two were rushed to the hospital, after the family ran their car for warmth inside a closed garage, NPR reported.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo described the spike in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning “a disaster within a disaster.”

The majority of outages in Texas have been caused by forced shutdowns by the state's energy agency the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Officials have said that the equipment at the plants could not handle the Arctic temperatures so staff had to stop providing power in a bid to stop the total collapse of the grid.

ERCOT, a non-profit business, manages the state's independent power grid.

Federal Emergency Management Agency acting administrator Bob Fenton said teams in Texas were distributing fuel, water, blankets and other supplies.

“What has me most worried is making sure that people stay warm,” Fenton said on “CBS This Morning.”

In many areas, water pressure dropped after lines froze and because people left faucets dripping to prevent pipes from icing, authorities said.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,300 Texas public water systems and 159 counties had reported weather-related operational disruptions affecting more than 14.9 million people, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Tiffany Young.

More than 1 million gallons (3.8 million liters) of water was being trucked Friday to the Texas capital. But Austin’s water director, Greg Maszaros, implored residents to minimize the use of home faucets because “there’s still a lot of unknowns as we pressurize the system.”

In Dallas, David Lopez said the plumbing company he works for received more than 600 calls for service over the last week.

“It’s pretty much first come, first served,” said Lopez, as he and a colleague manhandled a new water heater out of their van on Friday. “Everyone’s got emergencies.”

Houston residents probably will have to boil tap water in the fourth-largest US city until Sunday or Monday, said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Water service was restored Friday to two Houston Methodist community hospitals, but officials still were bringing in drinking water and some elective surgeries were canceled, spokeswoman Gale Smith said.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis said it was forced to switch to bottled water and bagged ice for all consumption and that staff and patients were washing with hand sanitizer and no-rinse bathing wipes. All non-urgent surgeries were postponed.

More than 100 million people stretching from Massachusetts to Texas are under weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned doctors onWednesday to be aware of the increased hazard of carbon monoxide poisonings and deaths sweep the country.

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