San Francisco Chronicle
States scramble to repair power, water services
HOUSTON — Hospitals across the South grappled with water shortages Sunday as the region carried on with sweeping efforts to recover from last week’s paralyzing winter storm.
At the height of the storm, hospitals were left scrambling to care for patients amid record cold, snow and ice that battered parts of the country more accustomed to going through winter with light jackets and short sleeves. The icy blast ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions of utility customers and contributed to at least 76 deaths.
A rural hospital in Anahuac, Texas, about 50 miles east of Houston, lost both water and power. William Kiefer, CEO of Chambers Health, which runs the hospital along with two clinics and a wellness center, said the facilities resorted to backup generators and water from a 275gallon storage tank. They refilled it three times using water from a swimming pool in the wellness center.
Water was restored Thursday, and operations had returned to normal on Sunday, he said.
After temperatures plunged as much as 40 degrees below normal last week, the forecast for the Houston area called for a high of 65 degrees Sunday. The city lifted its boilwater advisory on Sunday afternoon. Still, hundreds of cars lined up at NRG Stadium to receive food and water from the Houston Food Bank.
Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference Sunday that he was concerned about the threat of huge electric bills after wholesale energy prices skyrocketed while power plants were offline. He said it would be the “top priority” for the Legislature, and he vowed not to end the legislative session until lawmakers ensure that the state’s power grid is retrofitted to handle extreme winter and summer weather.
In Memphis, which counted 10 inches of snow last week, the main utility issued a boilwater advisory on Thursday out of concern that low water pressure caused by problems at aging pumping stations and water main ruptures could lead to contamination. The advisory was still in place Sunday; utility officials said they did not know when they might lift it.
City officials distributed bottled water at several locations Sunday. Grocery stores struggled to keep shelves stocked and many restaurants remained closed.
Flights resumed Saturday at Memphis International Airport after everything was grounded Friday because of water pressure problems.
Nearly 230,000 customers across the nation were still without power as of Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us. The largest blackouts were in Mississippi, Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon.