Millions are still without power as winter storms continue

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Judson Jones and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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12:53 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Some states are seeing record-low temperatures. Here's how to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.

From CNN's Elise Hammond

Millions are enduring a deadly winter storm without power and during extremely low temperatures. Staying safe can be a challenge.

Here are some things you can do to prevent hypothermia and frostbite:

Hypothermia: This happens after you have been exposed to very cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time and your body loses heat faster than it is produced. This low body temperature can affect your brain, causing you not to think clearly, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Being aware of the signs of hypothermia is critical because you might not realize it is happening.

Warning signs:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

What to do: If you are not able to get medical help right away, start with trying to warm the person up.

  • Focus on heating up the chest, neck, head and groin area. The CDC says if you don't have power, use skin-to-skin contact under layers of clothes or blankets.
  • Warm drinks can help increase the body temperature.
  • Once they are warmed up, make sure the person is dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a blanket.

Frostbite: This can lead to a loss of feeling and color in your body – typically your extremities like your nose, ears, cheeks, fingers or toes. The CDC says you may not notice you have frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of your body will be numb.

Warning signs:

  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

What to do: The CDC says you should get medical care right away, but in an instance where a person is showing signs of frostbite and not hypothermia and you cannot get medical care, here's what you can do:

  • Do not walk on the feet or toes that show signs of frostbite, unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area, this causes more damage, according to the CDC. Also don't use things like a heating pad, heat lamp, fireplace or radiator – because the area is numb, it could get burned.
  • Put the frozen areas in warm water. The water should be comfortable to touch with unaffected parts of your body, not hot. If warm water is not available, use body heat.

Remember: These tips are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be looked at by a doctor. Get medical care as soon as you can safely.

12:46 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Damage to Kentucky electricity infrastructure could knock out power into next week, state officials say

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

Winter storms in Kentucky have caused "physical damage to the infrastructure that transmits and delivers electricity to households" and some residents still might not have power by the end of the week, state officials say.  

"Our issues are different than what they're facing in Texas, though some of the natural gas is impacting some of our cities," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at a storm briefing. 

In Kentucky, the bigger concern "is the infrastructure, especially in Eastern Kentucky and the hit that it's taken and the amount of time it's going to take to get it back online," the governor said.

"We believe that we're going to make substantial headway through the end of this week in getting people their power back, but in some areas of eastern Kentucky it may take longer than through the end of the week," said Beshear, who acknowledged its tough news for residents. 

More than 96,000 customers were without power on Thursday morning, state officials said. 

"No matter how well prepared [we are] for significant events, power outages and transmission issues are a product of ice storms," said Michael Dossett, executive director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. 

"Electric companies have activated their mutual aid system" and in some counties base camps have been established where "all the power companies will be onboard working to bring the power back," Dossett said. 

There are several steps crews must take to repair damaged power lines, said Dossett.  

Crews must first assess the lines, "they physically need to walk many of these because of the dangerous conditions, the downed trees and the significant impacts in getting to the power lines," according to Dossett. 

Crews must also prioritize the sites depending on how many households are connected to a specific circuit, Dossett said.  

Because of this "households can experience on again and off again service because they routinely have to take down a major circuit to provide repairs to a feeder circuit, and then energize that area again," Dossett said.  

12:42 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

FEMA mobilizes generators, water and blankets to Texas

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to begin distributing 60 generators, millions of liters of water and tens of thousands of blankets in Texas starting today, according to a FEMA source. 

More shipments are expected in the coming days and weeks. 

FEMA Region 6, which includes Texas, told CNN the agency is “coordinating with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to facilitate requests for generators, blankets, bottled water and shelf stable meals.” 

Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state over the weekend. 

Over 3.3 million customers are without power in the state, with the greatest number in the Houston area.

1:17 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

It could be days before power returns for some residents, Austin mayor warns

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

As millions of Texans face power outages during winter storms, Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, said the return of power for residents depends on how soon the state can bring its power generation plants online and it could take days.

“What I'm hearing is it could be that we don't get that generation back online until things thaw. And that could be Friday, that could be Saturday here in Texas,” he told CNN. “This is a rough place we're in right now, and there's no guarantee of immediate relief.”

He acknowledged that Texas needs to prepare to face extreme weather conditions more frequently.

“I'm in a community right now that is scared, frustrated, confused, angry and I am, too,” he added. “The state grid has failed us. We weren't ready for sustained weather of 18 below zero. We need to be. These extreme weather conditions are happening much more frequently and we were not prepared.”

Adler also addressed and criticized comments from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, calling it “outrageous” to make the conversation about renewable energy and blaming the power failures on green policies during an interview with Fox News.

“The statement is not true to start off with,” Adler said. “We want our governor focused on getting us power and on restarting the grid, to find out what it is with ERCOT that made this happen.”

Watch:

12:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Cold weather and outages hampering San Antonio Fire Department's ability to put out fires

From CNN’s Paul Murphy

The San Antonio Fire Department confirmed to CNN that the power outages and cold weather are affecting their ability to put out fires.   

San Antonio Fire Department spokesperson Joseph Arrington said that frozen hydrants, as well as power outages affecting pump stations, are causing "challenges" with water pressure. That's ultimately hampering their efforts to put out fires as they find ways to work around it.

"We have just had to 'do more with less,'" he went onto say.  

For instance, Arrington said that instead of trying to aggressively knock down the fire inside, they've had to transition to a more exterior, defensive approach because of water pressure issues.  

"Our normal attack would involve multiple hoses and lots of water on the fire, so we've obviously just had to adjust," he said.  

Elsa Lightbourn appears to have witnessed the new approach firefighters have been forced to take in video she took of a fire in her San Antonio apartment complex. Arrington confirmed that firefighters responded to a fire in the leasing office around 6:30 a.m. 

"Crews found heavy fire in the attic area of the building, made an attempt at an interior offensive attack but were forced to back out and go defensive due to low water pressures," he said. "Some crews remain on scene clearing up hot spots."

12:16 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Weather-related vaccine delays expected for next week to two weeks

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Local health officials are bracing for delays in Covid-19 vaccine delivery caused by the winter storms sweeping the South, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday.

"I don't believe that it's anticipated it will have long-reaching outcomes, but certainly for the next week to two weeks, we might expect to see some impact from the weather," Freeman said.

"The two biggest shippers involved here – UPS and FedEx – have major either hubs or warehouses down in the South, in Memphis and in other areas. So, we do expect there could be a blip in delivery of vaccine that is weather related specifically," Freeman said. "I know that the White House is looking very closely at how to mitigate some of those issues quickly, in working with both of those shippers and perhaps others."

Freeman said that weather-related concerns were discussed briefly during a phone call that local health officials had with the Biden administration on Tuesday.

12:18 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

CNN editor describes what things are like on the ground in San Antonio, Texas

From CNN's Joe Ruiz

CNN Politics editor Joe Ruiz is in San Antonio, Texas, where he is without power and getting very little data connection through his phone provider. He has water in his home and is using extra blankets to stay warm.

Ruiz described what the scene has been like in San Antonio as the city continues to battle power shortages and winter conditions.

"The entire NW side of San Antonio was without power as we were driving back home after a store run. Nearly everything was closed, yet people were still out while the streets were at least OK to drive on. It was eerie to see lines of cars going nowhere. Like evacuating without a destination," Ruiz described.

"Any restaurant that was open had crazy lines in their drive thru. Pipes bursting all over the city. We’ve been lucky," he continued.

Ruiz said they've received "very little communication" from power providers and state nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, know as ERCOT.

Ruiz said there were also lines to get into HEB, a Texas-based grocery store chain, and Walmart.

"Target yesterday looked apocalyptic with flashing lights and trying to get people through registers to no avail," Ruiz described.

See his tweet from a local San Antonio Target:

12:12 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House encourages vaccination sites to extend hours to make up for winter weather's impact

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, center, speaks during a news briefing on February 17.
White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, center, speaks during a news briefing on February 17. White House

The extreme winter weather across the South has delayed Covid-19 vaccine deliveries and paused some vaccinations at various sites, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

"There are certain parts of the country – Texas being one of them – where vaccination sites are understandably closed," Zients said. "What we’re encouraging governors and other partners to do is to extend hours once they’re able to reopen."

Zients added that, specifically, some time has been lost for getting needles into arms across some states due to the weather.

"The weather’s having an impact," Zients said. "It’s having an impact on distribution and deliveries from the delivery companies and the distribution companies. People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there is an impact on deliveries."

 

12:03 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

The storm takes aim at the Northeast

By Jackson Dill and Jennifer Gray, CNN

This southern storm system will head for the Northeast by Thursday and bring more of the white stuff with it.

Two areas of low pressure, which are the driving force of this wintry weather, will travel up the East Coast, one after the other.

"It is looking more and more like an all or mostly all-snow event for most [of southern New England]. Not expecting a heavy snow scenario this time either, but more a prolonged light, sometimes moderate snow event," says the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Boston.

For the timing of the snow in the Northeast read more here