Power cri­sis was ‘fore­see­able, pre­ventable’

Texas warms as crit­i­cism of of­fi­cials heats up, too

- John Ba­con Contributi­ng: Ad­die Broyles, Austin 360; Rachel Weg­ner, The (Nashville) Ten­nessean; Mis­sis­sippi Clar­ion Ledger staff; The As­so­ci­ated Press Weather · U.S. News · Disasters · Oregon · Tennessee · Memphis · Houston · Lina Hidalgo · Democratic Party (United States) · Sylvester · Greg Abbott · Republican Party (United States) · Houston Texans · San Antonio · New York City · West Virginia · Virginia · Mississippi · Harris County · Hidalgo, TX · Sylvester Turner · Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez · Houston Food Bank · Entergy · Jackson

Texas rolled into full-blown re­cov­ery mode Sun­day af­ter a win­ter storm that at its pow­er­ful peak left more than 4 mil­lion in the dark and al­most half the state’s 29 mil­lion peo­ple un­der boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sories.

More than 70 deaths have been linked to the in­tense cold and dam­ag­ing storms that swept through a wide swath of the na­tion last week, what Ac­cuWeather de­scribed as “one of the stormi­est weather pat­terns in decades.” About half the re­ported fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred in Texas, but there were deaths re­ported in sev­eral other states, from Ore­gon to Ten­nessee.

A warm­ing trend brought wel­come re­lief. In Ten­nessee, where Mem­phis was wal­loped with 10 inches of snow, tem­per­a­tures soared into the high 50s on Sun­day. In bat­tered Texas, Hous­ton’s tem­per­a­ture climbed into the 70s, and Austin was al­most there.

Texas power plants and wa­ter fa­cil­i­ties were ill-equipped to han­dle the win­try on­slaught. And state lead­ers took the brunt of the blame for fail­ing to en­sure that the power sys­tem could han­dle the strain. Har­ris County Judge Lina Hi­dalgo said her home was with­out power for three nights.

“It’s worth ask­ing the ques­tion: Who set up this sys­tem and who per­pet­u­ated it know­ing that the right reg­u­la­tion was not in place?” Hi­dalgo, a Demo­crat, said. “Those ques­tions are go­ing to have to be asked, and I hope that changes will come. The com­mu­nity de­serves an­swers.”

More than 33,000 Texas homes and busi­nesses re­mained with­out power Sun­day. Hous­ton Mayor Sylvester Turner called the power crash “fore­see­able and pre­ventable.”

Gov. Greg Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can, had harsh words for grid op­er­a­tors and man­agers of iced-locked wind tur­bines but has been less crit­i­cal of oil and gas in­dus­try cor­po­ra­tions that dom­i­nate Texas in­dus­try and sup­port his po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

Power plants strug­gled to op­er­ate in the ex­treme cold, and some nat­u­ral gas well­heads froze.

The gov­er­nor called on Texas law­mak­ers to re­quire that power plants be win­ter­ized. Satur­day, he promised to “work col­lab­o­ra­tively” with law­mak­ers from both par­ties to get a han­dle on en­ergy prices.

“We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect Tex­ans from spikes in their en­ergy bills that are a re­sult of the se­vere win­ter weather and power out­ages,” Ab­bott said.

Al­most 1,500 pub­lic wa­ter sys­tems in Texas re­ported dis­rupted op­er­a­tions, said Toby Baker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the state Com­mis­sion on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity.

In Austin, tem­per­a­tures re­mained be­low freez­ing for al­most a week. Austin Wa­ter said Sun­day that stor­age in reser­voirs had climbed to 72 mil­lion gal­lons, but at least 100 mil­lion gal­lons were needed to help build wa­ter pres­sure sys­temwide.

“We urge cus­tomers with wa­ter ser­vice to limit wa­ter use to es­sen­tial needs and fol­low manda­tory wa­ter re­stric­tions,” Austin Wa­ter tweeted.

In San An­to­nio, au­thor­i­ties said Sun­day that wa­ter had been re­stored to 98% of the city.

Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, DN.Y., vol­un­teered at the Hous­ton Food

Bank on Satur­day and an­nounced her fundrais­ing ef­fort for the storm re­cov­ery ef­fort in the state had sur­passed $4 mil­lion.

“That’s the New York spirit, that’s the Texas spirit, that’s the Amer­i­can spirit,” Oca­sio-Cortez said.

Al­most 50,000 homes and busi­nesses in West Vir­ginia were with­out power Sun­day. The num­ber was al­most 40,000 in Mis­sis­sippi.

“Crews con­tinue to work around the clock,” Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted. “Weather con­tin­ues to im­prove with high temps well above freez­ing in most places.”

As power is re­stored, En­tergy Mis­sis­sippi Pres­i­dent and CEO Ha­ley Fi­sack­erly cau­tioned cus­tomers to slowly phase in use to avoid over­load­ing the sys­tem. He sug­gested turn­ing off ma­jor ap­pli­ances be­fore the power is turned back on.

“I know when those lights come back on, you’re go­ing to be ready to clean up that house and wash those dishes in your dish­washer or wash your clothes,” he said.

“Do that in stages, (or it) could cre­ate prob­lems back on the grid.”

Most of Jack­son, a city of about 160,000, lacked run­ning wa­ter, and of­fi­cials blamed wa­ter mains that are more than 100 years old and not built for freez­ing weather.

The city pro­vided wa­ter for flush­ing toi­lets and drink­ing, but res­i­dents had to pick it up.

In Ten­nessee, Mem­phis re­mained un­der a boil ad­vi­sory Sun­day af­ter of­fi­cials said they were con­cerned that low wa­ter pres­sure caused by prob­lems at ag­ing pump­ing sta­tions and a rash of wa­ter main rup­tures could lead to con­tam­i­na­tion.

 ?? RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Martin Lopez loads his car with wa­ter af­ter re­fill­ing the bot­tles at Ge­orge­town Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Texas on Feb.19.
RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Martin Lopez loads his car with wa­ter af­ter re­fill­ing the bot­tles at Ge­orge­town Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Texas on Feb.19.

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