Texas rolled into full-blown recovery mode Sunday after a winter storm that at its powerful peak left more than 4 million in the dark and almost half the state’s 29 million people under boil-water advisories.
More than 70 deaths have been linked to the intense cold and damaging storms that swept through a wide swath of the nation last week, what AccuWeather described as “one of the stormiest weather patterns in decades.” About half the reported fatalities occurred in Texas, but there were deaths reported in several other states, from Oregon to Tennessee.
A warming trend brought welcome relief. In Tennessee, where Memphis was walloped with 10 inches of snow, temperatures soared into the high 50s on Sunday. In battered Texas, Houston’s temperature climbed into the 70s, and Austin was almost there.
Texas, where many power plants and water facilities were ill-equipped to handle the wintry onslaught, took the brunt of the damage. And state leaders took the brunt of the blame for failing to ensure that the power system could handle the strain. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said her home was without power for three nights.
“It’s worth asking the question: Who set up this system and who perpetuated it knowing that the right regulation was not in place?” said Hidalgo, a Democrat. “Those questions are going to have to be asked, and I hope that changes will come. The community deserves answers.”
About 20,000 Texas homes and businesses remained without power Sunday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking website. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called the power crash “foreseeable and preventable.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, had harsh words for grid operators and managers of iced-locked wind turbines but has been less critical of oil and gas industry corporations that dominate Texas industry and support his political campaigns.
Power plants struggled to operate in the extreme cold, and some natural gas wellheads froze. The governor called on Texas lawmakers to require that power plants be winterized. Saturday, he promised to “work collaboratively” with lawmakers from both parties to get a handle on energy prices.
“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Abbott said.
Water systems also struggled. Almost 1,500 public water systems in Texas reported disrupted operations, said Toby Baker, executive director of the state Commission on Environmental Quality.
In Austin, temperatures remained below freezing for almost a week. Austin Water said Sunday that storage in reservoirs had climbed to 72 million gallons, but at least 100 million gallons were needed to help build water pressure systemwide.
“We urge customers with water service to limit water use to essential needs and follow mandatory water restrictions,” Austin Water tweeted. “Violations of these restrictions should be reported to Austin 3-1-1.”
In San Antonio, authorities said Sunday that water had been restored to 98% of the city.
A thin silver lining for residents of Austin and San Antonio: Lick Honest Ice Creams planned an ice cream giveaway Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. at its Austin and San Antonio shops.
“It’s been a week for the history books, y’all, and we hope we can make yours a little bit better,” the company posted on Facebook. “We’ve missed scooping for you and can’t wait to see you again!”
Help was coming from all over. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., volunteered at the Houston Food Bank on Saturday and announced her fundraising effort for the storm recovery effort in the state had surpassed $5 million on Sunday.
“That’s the New York spirit, that’s the Texas spirit, that’s the American spirit,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
More than 27,000 homes and businesses in West Virginia and another 25,000 in Kentucky were without power Sunday. That number was about 20,000 in Mississippi, where a high temperature in Jackson of 61 degrees was forecast Sunday.
“Crews continue to work around the clock,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted. “Weather continues to improve with high temps well above freezing in most places.”
As power is restored across the state, Entergy Mississippi president and CEO Haley Fisackerly cautioned customers to slowly phase in use to avoid overloading the system. He suggested turning off major appliances before the power is turned back on.
“I know when those lights come back on, you’re going to be ready to clean up that house and wash those dishes in your dishwasher or wash your clothes,” he said. “Do that in stages, (or it) could create problems back on the grid.”