© Reuters. A man walks to his friend’s home in a no-electricity neighborhood while snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville
From Go Nakamura
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Millions of Texans brave their third day of no heat on Wednesday after a punishing winter storm that killed at least 21 people as freezing conditions hampered the country’s second largest state and surrounding region for days.
According to Texas’ Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, which has come under increasing fire for a massive power grid failure, around 2.7 million households have been without electricity.
Laura Nowell, a 45-year-old mother of four in Waco, Texas, said her family had been without power since Monday morning and tried to keep warm by curling up and running and sitting in their car for brief periods.
“We’ve never had so much cold. There’s ice everywhere,” Nowell said, adding that she was frustrated by the lack of communication about power outages to protect the power grid. “Tell me what’s going on. It’s silence.”
The National Weather Service said the worst weather had passed the Fort Worth area but kept a storm warning in effect for the eastern part of the state until 8 p.m., warning that abnormally low temperatures would last for days.
In addition, snow and freezing rain, paralyzing the region, were moving east, and heavy ice accumulation was expected in parts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi before the storm hit the mid Atlantic and northeast on Thursday.
Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo, the senior civil servant in Texas’ most populous county, said Wednesday that the storms not only strained the local electricity grid, but also triggered a cascade of effects including water loss, carbon monoxide poisoning and halted COVID-19 vaccinations .
Hidalgo said she did not trust ERCOT to have the situation under control and warned that the outages could last for a few more days.
“I’m telling my community that they don’t expect power to be restored after the weather,” Hidalgo said on CNN. “We have never seen the grille fail.”
The storm killed at least 21 people in four states, and the weather service forecast that temperatures in parts of the central and southern United States would remain 20 to 35 degrees below average for a few days. This could lead to further ice build-up.
The deregulated energy market in Texas offers little financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare occurrence of intensely cold weather, something critics have been pointing out for years. Wells and pipelines in Texas, the country’s largest power-producing state, are no longer wintering further north – resulting in many of them being put out of service by the prolonged freezing weather.
ERCOT, which introduced power outages to deal with the surge in demand, urged people to focus on fixing the problem first before blaming them. It hoped soon to get to where customers only had to deal with brief power outages.
“The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow we can at least get back to the point where all consumers have outages that last no longer than 30 minutes to an hour,” said Dan Woodfin. ERCOT’s Senior Director of System Operations reported in a briefing.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called for lawmakers to investigate ERCOT and pass reforms.
The Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler, blamed the lack of electricity for the blackouts and called for reforms.
“We have to look at the extreme weather. It is no longer as unusual as it used to be,” Adler told MSNBC.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has supplied Texas with generators and is preparing to provide diesel fuel to ensure the availability of emergency power, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. President Joe Biden approved a declaration of emergency for the state on Sunday.
In the meantime, people got along as best they could.
Trilby Landry, a 57-year-old homeless man, escaped the cold at the Gallery Furniture store in Houston, which had opened its doors as a warmth center, and joined people who fled their homes with broken heating systems and plumbing.
“We are provisional,” Landry said in a telephone interview. “Everyone is in a whirlwind right now. They let people sleep on sofas and chairs. People just want to go home.”