US winter storm death toll hits 47 including 30 in Texas


At least 47 people have so far been killed in the devastating winter storms that have pummeled America with 30 lives lost in Texas including an 11-year-old boy who died from suspected hypothermia inside his family’s unheated mobile home and a man who froze to death in his recliner chair.

The crisis in the energy independent state entered its sixth day Friday, with 200,000 Texans waking up to another day of no power and 10 million without access to safe drinking water.

Texas had been just ‘seconds and minutes’ away from ‘months-long’ blackouts, the embattled CEO of the state’s energy grid ERCOT said Thursday as he defended the company’s actions that sparked the greatest forced blackout in US history. 

While the power has been restored for most after four million were impacted by power outages earlier this week, the dangerous situation continues for millions as Texas is now running out of food and water.

The food supply chain is in tatters all the way from farm to the table with supermarket shelves bare and an unconscionable amount of produce spoiled in the blackouts. 

More than 10 million residents are under boil water notices as water treatment facilities lost power and the critical supply available was wasted as freezing temperatures burst water mains and pipes. 

Statewide, Texans are resorting to increasingly desperate measures with many left with no choice but to boil snow to stay hydrated while people are collecting water from the San Antonio River and swimming pools to flush their toilets. 

Residents who have finally been able to return home as power was restored after days on end sleeping in warming shelters and furniture stores have found their homes and worldly possessions destroyed as burst water pipes caused flooding and collapsed ceilings.  

Along with the families who must face life without those lost to the storm, the long-term impacts of the catastrophic failure in ERCOT’s handling of the energy crisis are not fully clear but insurance experts are warning this is likely to be the costliest weather event in state history – even greater than the $19 billion cost of Hurricane Harvey.

The storm claimed one of its youngest victims Tuesday as a devastated mom found her healthy 11-year-old dead in their mobile home in Conroe. Cristian Pavon (pictured) is thought to have died from hypothermia after his home lost power

The storm claimed one of its youngest victims Tuesday as a devastated mom found her healthy 11-year-old dead in their mobile home in Conroe. Cristian Pavon (pictured) is thought to have died from hypothermia after his home lost power

Drone footage over San Antonio shows the area still in darkness. 200,000 homes statewide still have no power

Drone footage over San Antonio shows the area still in darkness. 200,000 homes statewide still have no power

The crisis in the energy independent state entered its sixth day Friday, with 200,000 Texans waking up to another day of no power and 10 million without access to safe drinking water

The crisis in the energy independent state entered its sixth day Friday, with 200,000 Texans waking up to another day of no power and 10 million without access to safe drinking water

Crews use plows to clear snow from American Airlines Terminal C at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

Crews use plows to clear snow from American Airlines Terminal C at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

An Oncor Electric Delivery crew works on restoring power to a neighborhood in Odessa Thursday

An Oncor Electric Delivery crew works on restoring power to a neighborhood in Odessa Thursday

Death toll climbs to 30 in Texas 

Fears are mounting that the state’s death toll could continue to rise as Texans are told to brace for more freezing temperatures through Saturday in areas including Fort Worth, Texas, and Houston. 

The storm claimed one of its youngest victims to date as a devastated mother found her 11-year-old boy dead in their mobile home in Conroe Tuesday.

Cristian Pavon, who was otherwise healthy, is thought to have succumbed to hypothermia after the family’s home lost power at the weekend and temperatures plunged to single digits.

His mother Maria Elisa Pineda told the Washington Post she went to check on him as he was huddled under a pile of blankets in bed and found him unresponsive.

The little boy was pronounced dead that afternoon.

This week was the first time Cristian had seen snow after he moved from Honduras in 2019 to live with his mom. 

A man reportedly froze to death in his recliner chair with his ‘nearly dead’ wife clinging to life beside him in their freezing home in Abilene.

The victim was found dead Wednesday and his wife was taken to hospital where she too remains ‘in peril’ after they suffered without power for several days, according to Josh Casey, president of Abilene Fresh, a food donation charity.

Also in Abilene, a man died at a health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible. 

People line up at a propane gas station to refill their tanks after winter weather caused electricity blackouts

People line up at a propane gas station to refill their tanks after winter weather caused electricity blackouts

People take shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station in Houston

People take shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station in Houston 

Oncor Electric Delivery linemen wait for a new work order after repairing a utility pole damaged by snow and ice in Odessa

Oncor Electric Delivery linemen wait for a new work order after repairing a utility pole damaged by snow and ice in Odessa 

Restoring power is a matter of life or death with than 188,000 homes without power for the sixth day in a row Thursday.

This includes around 16,800 customers in Austin with Mayor Steve Adler describing the situation as ‘really dicey’.

‘It feels like it’s just one thing after another after another,’ he said Friday on NBC’s Today show, as the city’s hospitals are struggling to stay open due to the lack of power and water. 

‘We’re doing better right now. But I’ll tell you, it was really dicey, and it still is in some hospitals,’ he said.

Nearly half of all Texans are now under a boil water advisory as the resumption of power in many areas has been replaced with another crisis – no access to clean drinking water. 

More than 700 water supply systems have been impacted by the storm as water mains and pipes burst or froze over amid plunging temperatures. 

In Austin alone, 325 million gallons have been lost to burst pipes and there are ‘tens of thousands of leaks’ Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said Thursday.

Meszaros said it was like ‘nothing I’ve ever seen before.’

An Oncor Electric Delivery lineman crew works on repairing a utility pole that was damaged by the winter storm

An Oncor Electric Delivery lineman crew works on repairing a utility pole that was damaged by the winter storm

Workmen work in the darkness to try to restore power to hard-hit Texans who have gone six day without power

Workmen work in the darkness to try to restore power to hard-hit Texans who have gone six day without power

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said residents will probably have to boil tap water in the fourth-largest US city through to Sunday or Monday – an impossible task for the 4,000 homes still without power Friday. 

Over in downtown San Antonio, hotel staff and guests were collecting water in trash cans and buckets from the San Antonio River so they could flush the toilets, reported MySA.com. 

Federal emergency officials sent generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in the state, along with thousands of blankets and ready-to-eat meals, officials said. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned Thursday that residents ‘are not out of the woods’ yet, with temperatures still well below freezing through to the weekend and disruptions in the food supply chain are also rumbling on.

Officials issued a warning to businesses who have started price gouging to take advantage of the spike in demand and lack of supply, as desperate residents flock to grocery stores to find shelves empty of goods.  

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee and Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo, which covers the Houston area, said residents have reported huge spikes in the price of food, water, and hotel rooms.

‘The main types of things we’re seeing is hotels setting prices at ridiculous rates,’ Menefee told the Associated Press. 

Drone footage over San Antonio shows the area covered in snow from the winter storms that have so far killed 47 nationwide

Drone footage over San Antonio shows the area covered in snow from the winter storms that have so far killed 47 nationwide

At least 47 people have so far been killed in the devastating winter storms that have pummeled America with 30 lives lost in Texas

At least 47 people have so far been killed in the devastating winter storms that have pummeled America with 30 lives lost in Texas

Texas Game Wardens helped rescue cold-stunned sea turtles as the state is hammered by freezing temperatures

Texas Game Wardens helped rescue cold-stunned sea turtles as the state is hammered by freezing temperatures 

In this screen grab a Houston Texas family asses the damage done to their kitchen during the winter storm

In this screen grab a Houston Texas family asses the damage done to their kitchen during the winter storm

‘We’ve seen allegations of packs of water being sold for two to three times the normal price, or packs of water being divvied up and the individual bottles being sold at excessive prices.’

Officials said 450 complaints had been logged in just 20 hours after they set up a system for consumers to report price gouging – something which is against the law in Texas during an emergency declaration.  

Supermarkets are running desperately low on food with food spoiled by sprawling power outages earlier in the week now leaving shelves bare with no sign of delivery trucks coming in on the treacherous icy roads. 

H-E-B, a major Texas grocery chain which has more than 400 stores in Texas and Mexico, said the ‘unprecedented weather event in Texas has caused a severe disruption’ to its supply chain and even forced 10 of its store to close.

‘Like many other Texans are experiencing, this disruption is complicated by power and water outages. For H-E-B, this means temporary impacts to manufacturing, warehousing, store operations, and the daily lives’ of employees and their families, the company said Thursday. 

The state’s agricultural industry has been hammered with farmers branding the situation the ‘Valentine’s Day produce massacre’ as fruit and vegetable crops in the Rio Grande Valley froze over, reported The Produce News.

Celia Cole, CEO of hunger-relief organization Feeding Texas, told the Texas Tribune eight food banks have asked the state for assistance in feeding communities. 

Leovardo Perez (right) fills a water jug using a hose from a public park water spigot Thursday in Houston

Leovardo Perez (right) fills a water jug using a hose from a public park water spigot Thursday in Houston 

A worker transports bottles of water from the City of Houston Upper Braes Warehouse to delivery trucks

A worker transports bottles of water from the City of Houston Upper Braes Warehouse to delivery trucks 

People wait in near freezing temperatures to fill containers with water from a park spigot as drinking water supplies are still cut off to their homes

People wait in near freezing temperatures to fill containers with water from a park spigot as drinking water supplies are still cut off to their homes 

A shopper looks for bread on a mostly bare shelf as people stock up on necessities at the H-E-B grocery store

Images shared across social media Thursday showed bare shelves and desperate Texas queued in long lines outside

Meanwhile school districts from Houston to Fort Worth have also been forced to indefinitely halt meal distributions to students and the Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said dairy farmers around the state are having to pour $8 million worth of milk down the drain every day because they’re unable to get it to dairies. 

If farmer can’t get their livelihoods back up and running soon it could have long-term implications on the sector. 

Access to food could be in dire straits for several weeks to come as the supply chain has been disrupted all along the chain from farm to production plant to store. 

Fish freeze and a dozen animals die from the cold in a sanctuary 

Record-smashing low temperatures have also created perilous conditions for animals across the state, with at least a dozen animals dying at a sanctuary that lost power, fish freezing in the icy waters and one zoo letting its animals roam in the facility’s restaurants in desperate efforts to keep them alive. 

The Primarily Primates sanctuary near San Antonio announced that a dozen animals, including monkeys, lemurs and a chimpanzee died after the site lost power.

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, which manages the sanctuary told NBC News staff desperately tried to save the animals, climbing into their enclosures to capture them and move them into warm rooms.

But despite their best efforts, some of the lemurs and monkeys could not be moved and 

At least a dozen animals, including monkeys, lemurs and one chimpanzee, died after record-setting cold and snow left a Texas animal sanctuary without power, officials said.

Insurance experts are also warning that the storm is likely to be the costliest weather event in Texan history as claims are already flooding in from residents whose homes have been destroyed.

Camille Garcia, communications director with the Insurance Council of Texas, told Dallas News the long-term impact is likely to be costlier than Hurricane Harvey in terms of home and auto claims, which left $19 billion in insurance claims or about $20.1 billion adjusted for inflation in its wake in 2017.

While Harvey and most storms impact parts of the state, all 254 counties have been hammered by this week’s record-smashing weather events. 

‘We are used to our storms here in Texas with tornadoes, hurricanes and hail,’ she said. 

‘But those are regional. We are talking about an event that reached every part of Texas.’

This doesn’t include the as yet unknown costs of damage to public infrastructure, energy pipelines and power, Dallas News reported.

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Texas was ‘seconds’ away from ‘months-long’ power outage, ERCOT’s embattled CEO says, as grid operator defends rolling blackouts that cut electricity to millions  

Texas was ‘seconds and minutes’ away from ‘monthslong’ power outages the embattled CEO of ERCOT said Thursday as he defended the grid’s rolling blackouts. 

A week of below-freezing temperatures knocked about a third of the state’s generating capacity offline, resulting in the greatest forced blackout in U.S. history and exposing weaknesses of Texas’ unique approach to power grid management. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, operates the power grid that covers most of the state and was behind the decision to have rolling blackouts which left up to 4 million people enduring outages in subfreezing temperatures. 

Its CEO Bill Magness told The Texas Tribune Thursday that if operators had not acted ‘immediately’ in implementing them Monday morning the state would have faced an ‘indeterminately long’ electricity crisis. 

He said: ‘It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.’ 

Texas was 'seconds and minutes' away from 'monthslong' power outages Bill Magness, pictured, the CEO of ERCOT said Thursday as he defended the grid's rolling blackouts

Texas was ‘seconds and minutes’ away from ‘monthslong’ power outages Bill Magness, pictured, the CEO of ERCOT said Thursday as he defended the grid’s rolling blackouts

A week of below-freezing temperatures knocked about a third of the state’s generating capacity offline, resulting in the greatest forced blackout in U.S. history and exposing weaknesses of Texas’ unique approach to power grid management. Cities in Texas are pictured on January 31 with power and then on February 16 without 

Energy officials had seen huge amounts of supply dropping off the grid as temperatures cropped cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and to stop wind turbines from spinning. 

Plunging temperatures also caused Texans to turn up their heaters, including many inefficient electric ones. Demand spiked to levels normally seen only on the hottest summer days, when millions of air conditioners run at full tilt.  

Magness added: ‘What happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.’ 

Houston, Texas: Donated water is distributed to residents, Thursday. A water crisis was also unfolding after Texas officials ordered 7 million people to boil tap water before drinking it

Houston, Texas: Donated water is distributed to residents, Thursday. A water crisis was also unfolding after Texas officials ordered 7 million people to boil tap water before drinking it

Houston, Texas: : A person carries empty propane tanks Thursday, bringing them to refill at a propane gas station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts

Houston, Texas: : A person carries empty propane tanks Thursday, bringing them to refill at a propane gas station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts

Texans were on Thursday beginning to see power restored. 

But the storm has left at least 15 people dead across the state; In the Houston area, one family died from carbon monoxide as their car idled in their garage.

A 75-year-old woman and her three grandchildren were killed in a fire that authorities said might have been caused by a fireplace they were using. 

And Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has accused ERCOT of misleading the public with messages that the grid was ready for the storm.

Furious Texans are also demanding answers after it emerged energy producers were warned their equipment would not withstand such a cold snap.   

After the state’s last major freeze, during the 2011 Super Bowl held in Arlington, Texas, a federal analysis found that energy producers’ procedures for winterizing their equipment ‘were either inadequate or were not adequately followed’ in many cases. 

Wylie, Texas: Residents displaced by this week's severe winter weather take shelter in a school

Wylie, Texas: Residents displaced by this week’s severe winter weather take shelter in a school

Austin, Texas: shopper walks past a bare shelf as people stock up on necessities at the H-E-B grocery store Thursday. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states

Austin, Texas: shopper walks past a bare shelf as people stock up on necessities at the H-E-B grocery store Thursday. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states

Killeen, Texas: Vehicles at a standstill southbound on Interstate Highway 35 on Thursday

Killeen, Texas: Vehicles at a standstill southbound on Interstate Highway 35 on Thursday

Defending the grid, Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Enverus, told The Tribune: ‘As chaotic as it was, the whole grid could’ve been in blackout. ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn’t worse is because of those grid operators.

‘The operators who took those actions to prevent a catastrophic blackout and much worse damage to our system, that was, I would say, the most difficult decision that had to be made throughout this whole event.’

But Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable. ‘That’s nonsense,’ he said. ‘Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.’ 

Texas has a grid largely disconnected from others to avoid federal regulation. 

That means it is not linked to other states and so cannot borrow power from them, a system the state implemented in order to avoid federal regulation. 

The unique system, which avoids regulation in favor of market incentives, is now facing backlash for allowing power generators to shirk preparations for a once-in-a-decade winter storm. 

Rolling blackouts are usually triggered when reserves fall below a certain level. 

Grid operators say rolling blackouts are a last resort when power demand overwhelms supply and threatens to create a wider collapse of the whole power system.

ERCOT operates the power grid that covers most of the state and was behind the decision to have rolling blackouts which left up to 4 million people enduring outages in subfreezing temperatures. Houston is pictured from space during the blackouts

Usually, utilities black out certain blocks or zones before cutting off power to another area, then another. Often areas with hospitals, fire stations, water-treatment plants and other key facilities are spared.

By rolling the blackouts, no neighborhoods are supposed to go an unfairly long period of time without power, but that was not always the case this week in Texas. 

Some areas never lost power, while others were blacked out for 12 hours or longer as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Texas woke up Thursday to a fourth day without power. 

A water crisis was also unfolding after Texas officials ordered 7 million people to boil tap water before drinking it.  

The latest breakdown sparked growing outrage and demands for answers over how Texas – whose Republican leaders as recently as last year taunted California over the Democratic-led state’s rolling blackouts – failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence. 

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