Anger over Texas’s power grid failing in the face of a record winter freeze is mounting, as millions of residents 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.
“I know people are angry and frustrated,” said Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who woke up to more than 1 million people still without power in his city. “So am I.”
Between 2 and 3 million customers in Texas still had no power, nearly two full days after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts.
The winter weather that has overwhelmed power grids unprepared for climate change and left millions without electricity in record-breaking cold kept its grip on the nation’s midsection on Wednesday.
At least 20 people have died across the country, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family died from carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage; another perished after flames spread from their fireplace.
Some blame the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, but is increasingly visiting lower latitudes and staying beyond its welcome. Scientists say global warming caused by humans could be partly responsible for making its southward escapes longer and more frequent.
More than 100 million people live in areas covered Wednesday by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, as yet another winter storm hits Texas and parts of the Southern Plains, the National Weather Service said.
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 as record low temperatures were reported in city after city.
The weather has also threatened to affect the nation’s Covid-19 vaccination effort. President Joe Biden’s administration said delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries were likely. After visiting Milwaukee on Tuesday, Biden said the weather was as “cold as the devil up there”.
The worst US 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.
The breakdown sparked growing outrage and demands for answers over how Texas, whose Republican leaders as recently as last year taunted California over its rolling blackouts, failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence.
Amber Nichols, whose north Austin home has had no power since early Monday, said: “We’re all angry because there is no reason to leave entire neighborhoods freezing to death.”
Travel remains ill-advised in much of the nation, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights canceled. Some of the fatalities involve people dying in their cars in subfreezing temperatures. Many school systems have delayed or canceled face-to-face classes.
Republican governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation of the grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. His indignation struck a much different tone than just a day earlier, when he told Texans that Ecrot was prioritizing residential customers and that power was getting restored to hundreds of thousands of homes.
“This is unacceptable,” Abbott said.
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 on 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.