Power failures linger for millions

  • Snow and ice grips a neighborhood in East Austin on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Day six of the statewide freeze and still millions of Texans are without power. (Bronte Wittpenn /Austin American-Statesman via AP) Bronte Wittpenn

  • Howard and Nena Mamu eat dinner at their home in the Glenwood neighborhood in Hutto, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021. Anger over Texas’ power grid failing in the face of a record winter freeze mounted Tuesday as millions of residents in the energy capital of the U.S. remained shivering with no assurances that their electricity and heat — out for 36 hours or longer in many homes — would return soon or stay on once it finally does. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Ricardo B. Brazziell

  • People line up to enter Costco in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday morning, Feb 16, 2021. Anger over Texas’ power grid failing in the face of a record winter freeze mounted Tuesday as millions of residents in the energy capital of the U.S. remained shivering with no assurances that their electricity and heat — out for 36 hours or longer in many homes — would return soon or stay on once it finally does. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Ricardo B. Brazziell

  • Avett Archibad, 8, helps his brother Sanders, 6, and sister Luella, 10, built an igloo in their front yard of their home in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021. Most homes in the area were without power for nearly 24 hours. Atmos Energy and other power companies were performing rotating outages to protect the electric grid. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Ricardo B. Brazziell

  • Cynthia Valadez, 66, watches as her daughter Gloria, 29, who has brain demyelinatio, rests in their bedroom at their home located on East Cesar Chavez Street in Austin on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. The Valadez family was among millions of Texans who lost power after a statewide winter storm on Valentine's Day. (Bronte Wittpenn /Austin American-Statesman via AP) Bronte Wittpenn

  • Howard and Nena Mamu take what they can from their home in the Glenwood neighborhood in Hutto, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021. The Mamu family says that they will try to find a hotel after they found out that they will not get any power until Friday. Anger over Texas’ power grid failing in the face of a record winter freeze mounted Tuesday as millions of residents in the energy capital of the U.S. remained shivering with no assurances that their electricity and heat — out for 36 hours or... Ricardo B. Brazziell

  • Brett Archibad tries to entertain his family as they attempt to stay warm in their home in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday. AP PHOTO

  • Icicles form on a the frozen helmet of a Tulsa Firefigther working the scene of a 3 alarm fire on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 in Tulsa, Okla. Temperatures hovered in the single digits. (Mike Simons /Tulsa World via AP) Mike Simons, Tulsa World

  • People seeking shelter from sup-freezing temperatures receive a meal at a make-shift warming shelter at Travis Park Methodist Church, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Eric Gay

  • A woman who identified herself as Caroline and using blankets to keep warm outside the Majestic Theater, is encouraged by Morgan Handley, left, and Pastor Gavin Rogers, right, to seek shelter, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Eric Gay

  • A man climbs out of a van as he is moved to a warming shelter at Travis Park Methodist Church to help escape sub-freezing temperatures, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Eric Gay

  • Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon stands on his kitchen counter to warm his feet over his gas stove Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Power was out for thousands of central Texas residents after temperatures dropped into the single digits when a snow storm hit the area on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis) Ashley Landis

  • Christopher Harris, left, his wife Novi, center, and their daughter Keeva, occupy an office suite at a pop-up warming center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. In cooperation with the cities emergency management center, this location is one of seven that have opened in the city, offering those in need a place to keep warm and have access to power supply to charge devices. This particular location is a 24-hour location whereas the six others will be open on Wednesday, and... Tony Gutierrez

  • A couple walk along the banks of a frozen Mississippi River near Chain of Rocks Bridge Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Madison County, Ill. The region has been plunged into the deep freeze with brutally cold temperatures and more snow in the forecast. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson

Published: 2/17/2021 6:50:41 PM

AUSTIN, Texas — Nearly 3.4 million utility customers around the U.S. were still without power Wednesday in the aftermath of a winter storm that overwhelmed power grids unprepared for climate change, and another blast of snow and ice threatened to impede the efforts to restore service.

The latest storm front was expected to bring more hardship to parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley before moving to the Northeast on Thursday.

“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.

More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

At least two dozen people have died in the extreme weather this week, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage. Another perished as they used a fireplace to keep warm.

Record low temperatures were reported in city after city. Blame the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic but is increasingly spilling into lower latitudes. Scientists say global warming caused by humans is partly responsible for making the polar vortex’s southward escapes longer and more frequent.

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity. In Mexico, rolling blackouts Tuesday covered more than one-third of the country after the storms in Texas cut the supply of imported natural gas.

More than 3 million customers remained without power in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, more than 200,000 more in four Appalachian states, and nearly that many in the Pacific Northwest, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.

The weather has threatened the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort. President Joe Biden’s administration said delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries were likely.

The worst U.S. power outages by far have been in Texas, where officials requested 60 generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and planned to prioritize hospitals and nursing homes. The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.

Texas’ power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night but that 2.7 million households were still without power.

Blackouts lasting more than an hour began before dawn Tuesday in and around Oklahoma City, stopping electric-powered space heaters, furnaces and lights just as temperatures hovered around minus 8 degrees (minus 22 degrees Celsius). Oklahoma Gas & Electric urged users to set thermostats at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, avoid using major electric appliances and turn off lights or appliances not in use.

Entergy imposed rolling blackouts Tuesday night in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas at the direction of its grid manager, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, “as a last resort and in order to prevent more extensive, prolonged power outages that could severely affect the reliability of the power grid,” according to a statement from the New Orleans-based utility.

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.”

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed those who had lost power during a live interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today.”

“I know they can’t see us right now because they’re without electricity, but the president and I are thinking of them and really hope that we can do everything that is possible through the signing of the emergency orders to get federal relief to support them,” Harris said.

The weather also caused major disruptions to water systems in the Texas cities of Houston, Fort Worth, Galveston, Corpus Christi and in Memphis, Tennessee. In Houston, residents were told to boil their water — if they had power to do so — because of a major drop in water pressure linked to the weather.

In Abilene, Texas, firefighters were hampered by low water pressure as they tried to extinguish a house fire this week, the Abilene Reporter News reported.

“They had to watch that house burn,” City Manager Robert Hanna said Tuesday at a news conference.

The situation in Texas drew attention at Wednesday’s International Energy Forum, including messages of support from Saudi Arabia’s energy minister and OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo.

“As the extreme weather in Texas has shown, we cannot take energy security for granted, even in a country like the United States,” Barkindo said at the forum, which was held virtually.

Travel remains ill-advised in much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights canceled. Many school systems delayed or canceled face-to-face classes.

But even staying home can be hazardous in places without power.

Authorities said a fire that killed three young children and their grandmother in the Houston area likely spread from the fireplace they were using to keep warm. In Oregon, authorities confirmed Tuesday that four people died in the Portland area of carbon monoxide poisoning.

At least 13 children were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and one parent died of the toxic fumes, hospital officials said.

In Texas, at least, temperatures were expected to rise above freezing by the weekend.

“There is some hope on the horizon,” Oravec said.

___

Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. AP journalists Julie Walker in New York, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Darlene Superville in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.




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