By Brad Brooks
LUBBOCK, Texas Feb 17 (Reuters) – Millions of people in Texas awoke on Wednesday without heat again following a historic winter storm that has killed 21 people so far, as icy conditions threatened to plague the country’s largest state and surrounding region for days.
Some 2.7 million Texas households were still without power, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), a cooperative responsible for 90 per cent of the state’s electricity. Ercot said 600,000 households had power restored overnight.
Laura Nowell, a 45-year old mother of four in Waco, Texas, said her family has been without electricity since before dawn on Monday and has been trying to keep warm by bundling up and running and sitting in their car for short stints.
“We’ve never had this much cold. There is ice everywhere,” Nowell said, adding she was frustrated by the lack of communication about rolling blackouts to conserve the power grid. “Tell me what’s going on. It’s silence.
The National Weather Service said snowfall and ice accumulation would likely end around midday on Wednesday in North Texas, offering some reprieve, although it kept a winter storm warning in effect for the region through 8 p.m.
But the weather service warned the historically low temperatures that have crippled Texas and caused some power outages in the nearby states of Louisiana and Mississippi would likely continue, and a low responsible for the snow and freezing rain enveloping the region was moving east.
Significant ice accumulation – a primary reason behind the widespread power outages – could be expected in parts of Texas, the Lower Mississippi Valley, Virginia and North Carolina by Wednesday night, the weather service said.
“In the areas that contend with these devastating ice accumulations, residents can expect dangerous travel conditions, numerous power outages, and extensive tree damage,” it said in its latest update.
So far, the storm has killed at least 21 people across four states and has shuttered COVID-19 inoculation centres and hindered vaccine supplies.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top government executive in Harris County, Texas, on Wednesday said the ongoing storms were straining not only the local electric grid but triggering a cascade of effects, including lost water pressure, carbon monoxide poisoning and halted COVID-19 vaccinations.
Hidalgo said she did not expect the Ercot to quickly resolve the power outages.
“I do not trust that they’re in a place to say we’re going to get it back up today, tomorrow,” she said on CNN. “I believe it’s going to take some time, and that’s what I’m explaining to my residents.”
Texas’ deregulated energy market gives little financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare bout of intensely cold weather, critics have said for years. Natural gas wells and pipelines in Texas, the country’s biggest energy-producing state, do not undergo the winterization of those farther north – resulting in many being knocked offline by the prolonged freezing weather.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanded state lawmakers investigate Ercot and pass reforms.
“We knew a week in advance this storm was coming,” Abbott said during an interview on KLBK television, the CBS affiliate in Lubbock. “Ercot should have had a backup plan.”
The storm has knocked about a third of the state’s generating capacity offline. The power grid in Texas relies heavily on natural gas, responsible for nearly half the electricity generated.
U.S. President Joe Biden assured the governors of states hit hard by storms that the federal government stands ready to offer any emergency resources needed, the White House said in a statement.