Hundreds of thousands still without power in Texas as new storm hits eastern U.S.

The number of homes and businesses in Texas without electricity fell to fewer than 600,000 by Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us. But that’s still a huge number, and problems born in the winter weather emergency persisted.

The weather-related death toll across the South remained at 24.

And a-third of Americans were in the path of a second winter storm bringing snow and ice to the East Coast Thursday.

The Fort Worth/Dallas office of the National Weather Service said Thursday morning that, “The worst of the weather is behind us, but the worst of the road conditions is still to come as we enter a daily cycle of partial melting and refreezing. This means more black ice and bumpy ruts through Saturday. Drive safe or not at all if you can wait.”

Families in Houston and all over Texas were doing anything to stay warm, sometimes making deadly choices. 911 calls were way up throughout the state. Hospitals treated hundreds for exposure to the cold and for carbon monoxide poisoning as Texans fired up generators and stayed in their cars to keep warm.

Stay warm, but stay safe!
Over the past 2 days, HFD has responded to 180 reports of carbon monoxide poisoning across Houston. Keep power generators safely outside and learn the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. pic.twitter.com/hK5vnrjtXa

Frozen pipes were bursting, flooding homes and businesses. One Dallas apartment building had icicles inside. So many pipes burst that Texas’ governor asked for help from out-of-state plumbers. A North Texas plumber told CBS Dallas his company had gotten 2,200 calls in 24 hours.

Many counties warned their water could be contaminated and needed to be boiled. A boil water order was issued for all of Houston and dozens of cities. Among them, Austin where, CBS affiliate KEYE-TV reports, a city-wide boil water notice was issued due to a power loss at Austin’s largest water treatment facility.

In hard-hit areas, there was no water to boil because the taps were dry. Almost half of the state’s 254 counties were experiencing water woes.

In the search for food, there were lines to get into grocery stores that had empty shelves. There was even a run on gasoline.

The Texas Tribune reported that Texas “Food pantries are running out of supplies. And the freeze has wiped out substantial portions of the state’s citrus and vegetable crops.”

Frustration boiled over as utilities scrambled to try to restore power to those who still didn’t have any. As officials pointed fingers, one thing was clear: Texas didn’t weather-proof many of its power generating facilities or pipelines, despite being hit by a similar freeze about a decade ago.

Questions continued to mount about whether ERCOT — the utility overseeing the Texas grid — was ready.

“I’m sure as we review this, when it’s over, we’re going to find things we wish we’d done better,” ERCOT’s CEO Bill Magness said. “Right now, the number one priority is getting people’s power back on, getting that service restored.”

But that will take time.

Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo compared it to Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “This is very different from Harvey, but the scope of the impact is absolutely equivalent and it’s something that is impacting not just the millions of people here in Harris County, but all throughout Texas,” Hidalgo said.

Meanwhile, the CDC warned that the winter storm means widespread COVID vaccine delays — just as vaccinations were picking up pace. Shipments were running as many as 48 hours behind schedule. In Texas, only 9% of doses the state was expecting this week had been shipped as of Wednesday. Moderna Inc. was unable to ship any doses to Texas due to the storm.

Brian Dakss, Janet Shamlian and Mola Lenghi contributed to this report.

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