Millions of Texans have had their power restored days after demand during a severe winter storm overwhelmed the electrical grid, but now they face a new challenge: a lack of safe drinking water.
Late Thursday, The Associated Press reported that 1,000 of the state’s water systems and 177 of the state’s 254 counties reported disruptions caused by the brutal cold. More than 14 million people were affected, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that he would sign the federal disaster assistance request from Texas' governor as soon as it reached his desk. He also said he would travel to the state if his visit would not hamper those working there to handle the crisis.
Texas officials advised nearly a quarter of the state’s population to boil tap water before drinking it. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said residents of the state’s largest city would have to boil water until at least Sunday or Monday.
Two large hospitals in the city reported no running water, leading to the cancellation of nonemergency procedures through at least Friday.
Water pressure was spotty around the state because of damaged pipes and other water infrastructure. The water system was taxed because millions of people left their faucets dripping to prevent pipes from freezing and possibly bursting.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged Texans to shut off their water.
Federal emergency agencies reportedly had sent power generators to bolster water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes.
Kimberly Malloy was sheltering in San Antonio, Texas, with her boyfriend and two sons in a house that has not had water for several days.
“We’ve resorted to gathering snow and melting it down for drinking, bathing and flushing the toilet,” she said. “Who knows when we’ll get plumbing back?”
While much of the state has seen its power restored, AP reported that 190,000 homes and businesses were still without power in the state Friday morning. That was down from 3 million two days ago.
The White House said in a statement Thursday that Biden had spoken with Abbott.
The statement said the president told Abbott “that the federal government will continue to work hand in hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected.”
“The president also expressed that his administration was at the ready should the state of Texas or any other impacted region need additional federal disaster support or assistance as severe storms move across the US,” the statement read.
Biden also tweeted about the storm’s impact.
"Jill and I are keeping Texas, Oklahoma and other impacted states in our prayers. I've declared states of emergency, authorized FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to provide generators and supplies, and am ready to fulfill additional requests," Biden tweeted. "Please heed the instructions of local officials and stay safe."
More than 71% of the contiguous United States is covered in snow, as Texas and neighboring Louisiana are being hit by some of the coldest temperatures they have experienced in 30 years.
The average February temperature in Texas is about 13 degrees Celsius. The current cold front formed last weekend is bringing in temperatures far below normal and wreaking havoc on the state’s ill-prepared infrastructure.
At least 58 deaths across the southern United States this week were directly and indirectly related to the weather, and many more people have been fighting for their lives.
While Texas is the hardest-hit state, more than 330,000 people from Virginia to Louisiana were without power.
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas had to impose rolling electrical blackouts to provide relief to strained power grids.
The AP reported that 260,000 homes and businesses around Memphis, Tennessee, were advised to boil water before drinking as severe cold caused water mains to rupture.
In Jackson, Mississippi, 161,000 people were without water Thursday, AP reported.