U.S. & WORLD

Texas Power Outages Improving, But Many Still Remain In The Dark - Deep South, Too

February 18, 2021

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Power outages in Texas dropped below 1 million on Thursday morning for the first time in four days, but many people remained without electricity or safe drinking water after winter storms overwhelmed the state's power grid and utilities.

Meanwhile, heavy snow and ice were expected Thursday in the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, with the wintry weather moving into the Northeast by nightfall.

This week's extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of more than 30 people, some of whom perished while struggling to keep warm inside their homes. 

In Texas, more than 600,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Thursday morning, down from about 3 million the day before. But Texas’ grid manager, under fire for its response to the winter storm, has warned that the outages could fluctuate during hours of peak energy demand.

Adding to the misery, the snowy weather has jeopardized drinking water systems throughout the state.

Texas officials ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.

Boil Water Dos & Don
[Photo Credit: CDC] 

Water pressure has fallen across the state because lines have frozen, and many residents are leaving faucets dripping in hopes of preventing pipes from freezing, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to shut off water to their homes, if possible, to prevent more busted pipes and preserve pressure in municipal systems.

In Tennessee, twelve people have been rescued from boats after an dock weighed down by snow and ice collapsed on the Cumberland River the Nashville Fire Department said.

Fire crews and the Office of Emergency Management responded Wednesday evening to the Blue Turtle Bay Marina after a report that the dock collapsed on multiple boats trapping people, authorities said.

Nashville Fire Department spokeswoman Kendra Loney told news outlets that everyone known to be on the dock was accounted for and no one was injured. She said the weight of the ice and snow on the roof of the dock caused the collapse.

More than 320,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama early Thursday after a wave of storms dumped as much as 4 inches of snow and ice across a region that still had some remnants of wintry precipitation left over from earlier in the week.

Dozens of school systems canceled classes, switched to online learning or opened late, and conditions might not improve much in some places until Friday afternoon, when temperatures are finally supposed to rise above freezing for a few hours.

The largest concentration of outages was in a band across central Mississippi. Much of the rest of the Deep South was spared the worst weather.

The governors of Louisiana and Oklahoma have asked the White House for a federal disaster declaration as both states grapple with the extreme winter weather.

Weather-related outages have been particularly stubborn in Oregon, where some customers have been without power for almost a week. A Portland supermarket without power threw perishable food into dumpsters, leading to a clash between scavengers and police.

The damage to the power system was the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric. At the peak of the storm, more than 350,000 customers in the Portland area were in the dark. More than 100,000 customers remained without power Thursday in Oregon.

“These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,” said Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, who declined to predict when all customers would have power restored.

worker cuts tree branches from a power line
[Photo Credit: Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP] 

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on strained power grids. The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, said the blackouts were “a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”

The weather also disrupted water systems in several Southern cities, including in New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana, where city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals, and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sought a presidential emergency declaration Wednesday evening, seeking federal money and supplies in response to extended power outages in his state.

Power was cut to a New Orleans facility that pumps drinking water from the Mississippi River. A spokeswoman for the Sewerage and Water Board said on-site generators were used until electricity was restored.

In the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter said Wednesday that water reserves remained low and local hospitals were faced with the possibility they might have to transfer patients to other areas.

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