Millions under winter weather alerts as Texas faces water crisis

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021
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6:03 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

More than 14.9 million Texans impacted by water disruptions

From CNN's Hollie Silverman and Travis Caldwell

Water is loaded into a vehicle at a water distribution site on February 19 in Houston, Texas.
Water is loaded into a vehicle at a water distribution site on February 19 in Houston, Texas. David J. Phillip/AP

More than 14.9 million people have been impacted by disruptions across more than 1,300 public water systems, Tiffany Young, spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told CNN in an email Friday evening.

Water systems in 159 counties have also been impacted in Texas, Young said.

Some background: Authorities warned overnight that, while power has been largely restored, water supplies remain especially low.

Some hospitals have been operating without water service. As of Thursday afternoon, that included Houston Methodist West and Houston Methodist Baytown hospitals, said hospital system representative Gale Smith.

"They have been creative, from trucking water in for consumption to collecting rainwater to use for flushing toilets," Smith said. Both facilities, Smith said, were "still effectively caring for our patients."

In Austin alone, the state capital's water supply lost 325 million gallons due to burst pipes, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said during a news conference Thursday.

In Houston, the fire department received almost 5,000 reports of broken pipes, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday at a water distribution event.

5:33 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

165,000 Texas households remain without power

From CNN’s Chris Boyette

 Approximately 165,000 Texas households remain without power Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference.

“For those still without power, we want them to know that local providers are working around the clock to restore electricity,” the governor said.

Abbott reiterated that there are no longer any residential power outages due to the lack of power generation but may persist as the result of downed power lines or the need for the power company to manually reconnect the residence to the power system.

5:07 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Houston mayor says state power grid cannot be a scapegoat for lack of leadership

From CNN's Natasha Chen and Kevin Conlon

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner talks to the media at the George R. Brown Center on February 17 in Houston, Texas.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner talks to the media at the George R. Brown Center on February 17 in Houston, Texas. Thomas Shea/AFP/Getty Images

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CNN today that the state's power grid, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is an agency of the state, and that it cannot be the scapegoat for lack of leadership from state elected officials.

Turner was a state legislator in 1999 when energy was deregulated in the state, introducing retail competition to the electricity market. 

When asked whether Turner now has second thoughts on that, he said he thought it was the right decision, but also recognized the need for greater oversight over ERCOT.

Turner explained that he introduced a bill in 2011 that would have mandated ERCOT have enough energy capacity to prevent blackouts, but said the bill never got a hearing.

“If that bill had been put into place in 2011, we would not be put in this situation now,” Turner said at an event to distribute bottled water to Houston residents. “The deregulation is not the problem. It’s what happened after the fact. And that is, the system was engineered, designed more to benefit the generators than the customers and the people themselves."

"It was designed for summer heat, not for winter storms,” he added.

Asked whether ERCOT should be part of the national grid, Turner said that the closed system in Texas is archaic and needs to be upgraded.

In reaction to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s trip to Cancun, Turner said, “It’s good to have him back."

Turner continued: "People who are fighting to stay warm, taking care of their families, looking for a way to move forward, if nothing else, they expect their leaders to be where they are, to remain on the ship and not to abandon the ship so you can have some comfort.”

The mayor added that this has been a difficult week amid a difficult year. 

"This has been a hard week, ok? I’ve dealt with Harvey, I’ve dealt with social civil unrest, the coronavirus for almost a year, and now dealing this week. This has been a hard week," he said.

4:08 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Catch up on the latest updates on Texas' power outages and water shortage

From CNN's Jon Passantino

Containers are filled with non-potable water at a water distribution site on February 19 in Houston, Texas.
Containers are filled with non-potable water at a water distribution site on February 19 in Houston, Texas. David J. Phillip/AP

After millions of homes and businesses lost power for several days this week in Texas, about half of the state’s residents are now dealing with undrinkable water, broken pipes, and offline treatment plants.

Much of the state is still dealing with near-freezing temperatures and officials are warning some lingering power outages could drag on for days.

Here are the latest updates on the situation in Texas:

  • More than 14.6 million people are facing water disruptions, many with notices to boil their water, broken pipes and failing systems amid the frigid cold and power outages, state officials said. Major cities including Houston, Austin and San Antonio have issued boil water notices to their millions of residents.
  • As of 3:30 p.m. ET, more than 170,000 customers remained without power in Texas, per PowerOutrages.us. In some locations, residents have been without power for several days.
  • Millions of homes have had their power restored since the peak of the outages and nearly 300 warming centers have been opened across the state. For the first time in more than four days, the energy emergency that caused millions of Texans to lose power and sparked a water crisis has ended, the state’s grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), announced.
  • At least 50 confirmed deaths and nine suspected others have been reported across nine states, the majority in Texas, as a result of the brutal cold weather and winter storms impacting the US, including in carbon monoxide related incidents. 
  • The governor said most of the state north of Interstate 10 is forecast to experience below freezing temperatures until Saturday.
  • In Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, officials have issued a boil water notice due to its 2.3 million residents due to very low water pressure and officials are asking the community to help keep water pressure up for hospitals and first responders. The county judge warned residents to buckle up for the possibility of a few more days without power. Officials say there are now 10 hypothermia deaths in Harris County, home to Houston, more than 600 carbon monoxide cases and counting. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, meanwhile, said Friday, "I have not talked to the governor at any time during this crisis."
  • A mass water distribution site opened at Houston’s Delmar Stadium today as millions across the area remain under boil water notices.
  • President Biden said he plans on traveling to Texas next week, with the caveat that he would only do so if his visit doesn't further burden the state.
3:56 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Texas official requests direct individual assistance from White House

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks during a virtual call with other county officials on February 19.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks during a virtual call with other county officials on February 19. Harris County Judge

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said that she spoke with the White House yesterday and requested additional resources to respond to the weather damage in her area, including direct individual assistance to help those impacted by the weather emergency.

Hidalgo said during a virtual call with other county officials that she has requested a 100% reimbursement rather than 75% reimbursement because they are already overburdened because of Covid-19.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

While power outages have mostly been restored, the county continues to deal with water and food issues, Hidalgo said.

She asked all residents to assume they are under a boil water advisory unless they know otherwise.

It should be a few days before water issues are resolved, Hidalgo said, noting that some of the damage to pipes hasn't yet been identified and there is another cold night forecasted for tonight. 

Once all leaks are identified and pressure is restored to the system, bacterial sampling will still need to be done to lift boil water advisories, Hidalgo explained.

One district has begun using their potable water trucks that they would normally use for projects such as sink hole work and watering down roads to provide residents with non-drinking water to flush toilets and conserve the drinking water they do have, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle said during the call.

Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey both said they are planning to reopen parks to give people a place to go outside of their homes. Ramsey also said that he was opening community centers so people can access WiFi if needed.

Food availability has also been an issue because grocery stores lost power and food delivery trucks were unable to deliver shipments due to the roads, according to Hidalgo.

She said major grocery stores expect to be caught up with supplies this weekend.

Hidalgo reminded residents not to hoard food and only buy what they need for their families.

3:09 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

More than 175,000 customers in Texas without power and nearly 300,000 customers with no power in 4 states

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

A worker repairs a power line in Austin, Texas, on February 18.
A worker repairs a power line in Austin, Texas, on February 18. Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg/Getty Images

As of 2:30 p.m ET, at least 179,316 customers are without power in Texas, according to Poweroutage.us.

An additional 281,373 customers are without power in Mississippi, Oregon, Louisiana, and Kentucky. 

Here's a look at the top areas with outages:

  • Texas - 179,316
  • Mississippi - 95,173
  • Oregon - 69,864
  • Louisiana - 62,907
  • Kentucky - 53,429
1:47 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

More than 14.6 million people impacted by water disruptions in Texas, official says

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

People wait in line to fill containers with water from a park spigot on February 18 in Houston, Texas.
People wait in line to fill containers with water from a park spigot on February 18 in Houston, Texas. David J. Phillip/AP

More than 14.6 million people have been impacted by water disruptions in Texas as of Friday afternoon, according to Tiffany Young, media relations specialist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In a statement emailed to CNN, Young said that more than 1,225 public water systems have reported service disruptions due to weather

At least 161 counties in Texas have been affected by the disruptions, Young added.

1:32 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

The deep freeze has accelerated the ice coverage across the Great Lakes

From CNN's Jackson Dill

After over a week of below-average temperatures across the central US, ice coverage has accelerated across the five Great Lakes.

Just over three weeks ago, the Great Lakes' ice coverage was at an all-time historical low. Now, thanks to the arctic outbreak, their ice coverage has rebounded. 

For example, on Lake Erie, the percentage of ice cover on the lake was at 2.66% on Jan. 27, but as of Feb. 18, it's up to 81.69%. 

Satellite imagery shows Lake Erie on Sunday and then again this past Thursday. 
Satellite imagery shows Lake Erie on Sunday and then again this past Thursday.  NASA

This lake, which is the second smallest out of the five, has seen the fastest increase in ice cover.

The smallest lake, Lake Ontario, has also added ice cover in recent weeks. In just two weeks, coverage rose from 2.59% to 20.63%. Lake Ontario doesn't get as icy in the winters as Lake Erie because it is a deeper and, therefore, warmer lake.

The remaining three lakes, Superior, Michigan, and Huron, have seen at least a 20 percentage point increase these past two weeks.

NOAA
NOAA

12:43 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Nearly 5,000 customers remain without power in Houston, mayor says

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, right, speaks during a press conference at a water distribution site at Delmar Stadium on February 19.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, right, speaks during a press conference at a water distribution site at Delmar Stadium on February 19. Pool

Roughly 4,800 customers remain without power in the city of Houston, Texas, Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a Friday morning news conference at a water distribution site at Delmar Stadium.

At the peak, there were roughly 1.3 million customers without power in the CenterPoint Service Area, Turner explained.

The city is distributing more than one million units of bottled water as a boil water advisory remains in place, according to the mayor. He said the goal is to be out of the boil water notice by Monday.

The fire department received 4,900 reports of burst pipes throughout the city, dropping pressure in the water system below the threshold for a boil water advisory, around 20 pounds per square inch (psi), Turner said. Pressure is now increasing to an average of 32 to 34 psi in the city.

Turner noted that there are likely more burst pipes in the city than what has been reported and encouraged everyone to report any water they may see across the city.

The mayor advised residents who have experienced damage to their homes to document all damage.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said that 911 calls have decreased in the last day, from more than 3,000 calls a day to under 2,000 yesterday.

The calls have primarily been for fires and medical emergencies, particularly carbon monoxide poisoning, the chief said.

He warned residents to be careful about what they use inside their homes to stay safe.

"We don't want you to lose your life or risk your health unnecessarily," Pena said.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo gave his own warning to residents about con artists trying to profit off of the disaster. He encouraged people to always ask for identification of anyone coming to their homes claiming to be a contractor.