City of Austin Water Utility workers Joey Putman, left, to right, Damian Cruz and Salvador Tinajero repair a broken water main near 11th and Red River streets in Austin, Texas on February 19, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AP

Joe Biden approves Texas disaster declaration following deadly freeze

Millions of residents in Texas have had to contend with days of electricity outages, and nearly half of all Texans are still suffering from disruptions to their water service.

by · The Hindu

U.S. President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas on Saturday as the state struggles with the fallout from a winter storm that killed at least two dozen people and caused widespread blackouts and water shortages.

Millions of residents in the United States’ biggest oil and gas producer have had to contend with days of electricity outages, and nearly half of all Texans are still suffering from disruptions to their water service.

Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County,which encompasses Houston, said on Friday authorities were reporting 10 deaths due to hypothermia.

Watch | Texas bears the brunt of cold snap

Texas cold wave and power outage
A brutal winter storm has killed 21 people and left around 4.4 million without power along the U.S. Gulf Coast. An Arctic air mass descended over much of the country, pushing temperatures to historic lows The brunt of the cold snap was felt in the state of Texas. Texas produces and consumes more electricity than any other state in the US. It is the only state that runs a stand-alone electricity grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It was designed to keep the state’s energy system independent and isolated from other markets. About half of Texas's electricity is supplied via natural gas generation, followed by coal, renewables and nuclear power. The cold has forced many kinds of generation offline, freezing wind turbines and shutting natural gas power generation operations. Nearly half of Texas's wind power generation was knocked out by the winter storm. The state energy grid repeatedly failed, forcing rolling blackouts during what is some of the coldest temperatures that Texas has seen in more than 30 years This has caused an endless crisis - the National Guard was deployed to get old people into warming shelters. Air travel in and out of Houston was halted, and Covid-19 vaccination efforts faced potential disruption. U.S. President Joe Biden has approved a state of emergency in Texas as more warnings of power outages have been given.


The action by the Biden administration makes federal funding available to affected individuals, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.

Mr. Biden is also weighing a trip to Texas to survey the federal response to the first new crisis to develop since he took office a month ago. The White House is working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially acknowledge Mr. Biden’s November election win.

Mr. Abbott thanked the President for approving the major disaster declaration, saying in a statement that it was “an important first step.” But, he added, individual assistance had only been approved for 77 counties, not all the state’s 254 counties as he had requested.

From response to recovery

With all the state’s power plants back online, millions of Texans were finally able to turn on the lights and heat their homes again. However, outages persisted and more than 78,000 homes remained without electricity as of Saturday morning.


With the weather set to improve and temperatures expected to return to normal in the coming days, the main concern has shifted from power to water.

More than 1,200 public water systems have reported service disruptions, many of them leading to boil water notices, said Gary Rasp, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He said 14.3 million people in 190 counties were affected as of Saturday morning.

“I would have rather gone through a hurricane than this freeze,” Jay Farrell, a plumber, told Reuters at his home in Houston.


Mr. Farrell said he has not been able to take showers and for days has been using buckets of water from his hot tub to flushthe toilet. As Texas shivered in the dark during the freeze, he said the temperature in his house dropped to minus 5.5 Celsius.

In Houston, officials struck a more optimistic tone after power was restored to most residents and with mass distributions of bottled water under way.

“Things are looking up... We are headed in the direction of normalcy,” Ms. Hidalgo said in a video address on Friday. “Right no wit's about shifting from response to recovery.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Abbott said he was convening an emergency meeting with officials on Saturday to discuss the spike in energy bills received by many residents following the power outages.

Finger pointing

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, has come under fire after the power grid collapsed as demand spiked during the freeze.

Abbott lashed out at ERCOT last week, saying the corporation had told officials before the storm that the grid was prepared.

A lawsuit against ERCOT was filed on Friday in Nueces County court in Corpus Christi alleging the council failed to heed warnings and take action to address weaknesses in the power infrastructure.

Separately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued civil investigative demands to ERCOT and other power companies regarding power outages, emergency plans, energy pricing and more related to the winter weather.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Paxton said the companies “grossly mishandled” the weather emergency, and vowed to “get to thebottom of this power failure.”