With hopes of a thaw on the horizon, millions of Americans in the southern United States grappled with the aftermath of Saturday’s deadly winter explosion.
The storm-hit residents were slowly returning to electricity, but many were still without safe drinking water. More than 350,000 people in eight States were without power on Saturday afternoon, including more than 70,000 in Texas – down 4 million at the beginning of the week, according to PowerOutage.us.
Over 14.4 million people in Texas – more than half the state’s population – in 192 counties experienced water disruptions Saturday afternoon, causing local authorities to issue recommendations for boiling water, said Gary Rasp, a spokesman for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality versus USA TODAY.
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Experts warn that people of skin color and low-income communities disproportionately affected by power outages and burst pipes may now find the hardest route to recovery.
Biden explains major disaster in Texas
The White House announced on Saturday that President Joe Biden had signed a declaration of major disaster for Texas, which Governor Greg Abbott described as only “partial” approval of his request for federal aid.
Abbot filed for the disaster declaration Thursday asking for individual and public assistance for all 254 counties in Texas. Although Biden approved public support for all of these counties, his statement provides individual support to 77 of them, according to a press release from Abbot’s office.
Individual assistance is provided directly to local residents who have “suffered losses from disasters,” while public assistance can be used to repair or replace public facilities or infrastructure that have been damaged or destroyed by disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency .
Biden said Friday he plans to visit Texas next week but will not leave until he realizes his presence is not a “burden”.
“The answer is yes,” Biden said of a visit to Texas, adding that his original plan was to leave by the middle of next week. “But I don’t want to be a burden. If the president ends up in a city in America, he has a long tail.”
Meanwhile, three US Congress women visited the state on Saturday. Texas MP Penny Morales Shaw joined US Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sylvia Garcia to fill boxes at the Houston Food Bank.
Last week, Biden approved states of emergency in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
The death toll rises due to the record cold
Last week saw some of the worst winter weather conditions in decades if not recorded, the National Weather Service said on Friday. More than 3,000 daily record cold temperatures were reported from February 12 to 17, and 79 of those records were all-time cold records, according to NWS.
Public health officials have warned residents of hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning in recent days. According to the Associated Press, around 70 deaths across the country have been attributed to snow, ice and freezing temperatures. More than a dozen were people –including an 11-year-old boy who died in houses that had lost their heat.
Most of the deaths occurred in Texas. On Saturday, Louisiana health officials confirmed the deaths of two more people as a result of severe winter conditions, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to five.
The winter weather has also created dangerous obstacles for fire departments. A Hilton Garden Inn went up in flames late Friday in Killeen, Texas, where the city announced it would save water due to “extremely limited” supplies. Late Thursday an apartment complex burned down near San Antonio.
Fire hydrants froze, leaving firefighters with little water to put out fires, Bexar Bulverde chief fire officer Jerry Bialick told the Associated Press. “That’s our problem, as soon as we make a little advance on a fire, we run out of water,” he said.
Texas wasn’t prepared for the conditions. During their last pre-winter weather meeting, senior officials from the state-owned power grid operator discussed the impending storm and whether the state was prepared for less than a minute.
Bill Magness, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, spoke on the subject for about 40 seconds and said, “It looks like we’ve got a bit of winter weather to deal with.”
“Warmth is on the way”
There is good news: “Heat is on the way,” said the national weather service on Friday. “It might even feel tropical early next week” Some areas will approach 70 degrees by Tuesdaysaid the service.
AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said a major thaw is forecast for the south-central United States, which was recently bombed by winter.
“While the temperature fluctuations in the Midwest and East are not as dramatic, AccuWeather meteorologists say the extreme winter weather should lose intensity lately by the end of February,” said Sosnowski.
Featuring: Sarah Elbeshbishi, USA TODAY; The Associated Press; Madlin Mekelburg, Austin American statesman