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HOUSTON, Feb 20 ― Frustrated Texans queued for hours for safe drinking water yesterday, after an unprecedented and deadly “polar plunge” burst pipes and left millions in the US state shivering without power or clean water for days.
The extreme winter weather system wreaked havoc across much of the southern and central United States this week, reportedly killing at least 40 people and igniting anger in Texas as authorities scrambled to turn the lights back on.
Houston resident Percy McGee rated his frustration level at “number 10” as he waited his turn at the city's Delmar Stadium, now a mass bottled water distribution site.
“I've been up since five o'clock. And I've been on the road since six. And I know it's 11:30 but I'm gonna sit here until, I mean, I have no choice. All the stores in my area are out of water,” he told AFP.
“I'm very frustrated. I'm a diabetic. I have a 94-year-old senior as a diabetic. We haven't had no medicine. Nothing... So I'm really frustrated mentally. But I'm keeping it together,” he said.
Erica Granado, another Houston resident, said she had rushed to the site after seeing it on the news.
“I gotta be early because I knew everybody ― yeah, everybody wants water and so it's a difficult time for everybody,” she said, adding: “Thank God I had gas in my car.”
On Friday the weather system was slowly moving northeast, where hardy New Englanders ― far more used to scouring winter storms than residents of the Lone Star state ― were battening down.
But even as the temperature rose above freezing in Texas ― and the National Weather Service forecast weekend weather in the 50s Fahrenheit (10-15 Celsius) ― state governor Greg Abbott said some 165,000 people were still without power Friday.
Water pressure problems meant nearly seven million Texans were being advised to boil their water before drinking it or using for cooking, said Toby Baker, who heads the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, adding that nearly 264,000 people were impacted by non-operational water systems.
Some residents were also facing the misery of burst pipes and flooding.
“It was like a waterfall was coming down and it was starting to come out of the bathroom and to the other rooms,” said Birgit Kamps of Houston, adding that a neighbor helped switch off the water at the break ― halting the flood, but leaving her without running water.
Texas power companies implemented rolling blackouts in recent days to avoid grids being overloaded as residents cranked up the heat during the cold snap.
Texas is the only one of the US' 48 continental states to have its own independent power grid, meaning it was cut off when the weather hit.
The blackouts also shut down a major computer chip manufacturer, NXP Semiconductors in Austin, at a time when a worsening shortage of semiconductors is already affecting a variety of sectors including automobiles, mobile phones, game consoles and more.
Authorities opened hundreds of “warming centers” across the state, and one furniture store in Houston threw open its doors to freezing residents.
“We had a thousand people coming here trying our warming stations and getting free hot meals,” James McIngvale, owner of the Gallery Furniture store, told AFP.
President Joe Biden spoke Thursday evening with Abbott, pledging that the federal government would work “hand-in-hand” with state authorities to offer relief, the White House said.
The president has also ordered federal authorities to coordinate disaster relief in Oklahoma and Louisiana, which declared emergencies after they were also hit by the extreme weather.
The cold stretched as far as Seattle, in the northwestern US state of Oregon, where a 90-year-old woman trudged six miles (10 kilometres) in a foot of snow with two walking sticks to get her first vaccination against Covid-19, after frantically calling around to get a shot.
The harsh weather had made driving to Fran Goldman's hospital appointment too dangerous. ― AFP
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