Texans try to conserve heat and water as plunging temperatures knock out utilities and cell service

The Polar Plunge
Originally Published: 16 FEB 21 06:39 ET
Updated: 16 FEB 21 10:29 ET

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    (CNN) — Elijah Dorminy’s family has depended on their generator to make it through the deadly cold and power outages that have plagued Texas since early Monday morning, and he is worried soon even that won’t be an option.

Dorminy, his wife and their four children are worried what will happen when they need to refill their generator with gas again. Only one gas station still had fuel in Watauga, the suburb of Fort Worth where they live, Dorminy said.

“Pray for us, this is going to be rough,” he told CNN.

More than 4.3 million households and businesses were without power in Texas on Tuesday morning as a result of a winter storm and freezing temperatures that swept into the state Monday. The entire state was below freezing early Tuesday, and utilities have been knocked out or frozen over by the bitter cold — leaving many without primary means of heating their homes.

LIVE UPDATES: Millions without power as US braces for another winter storm

This already has had deadly consequences. In Houston, a woman and a girl died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning, and a man and a boy were hospitalized, after a car was running in the garage at their home — apparently to create heat because the power was out, police said Tuesday morning.

“Please pray for our elderly and vulnerable populations,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted late Monday. “With the 2nd consecutive night of massive power outages and frigid cold, many lives are at risk.”

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has said some utilities’ ability to generate the power has been frozen — including the natural gas and coal generators. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a grid operator that controls about 90% of the state’s electric load, said intentional, rolling power blackouts will happen in parts of the state to balance huge demand with struggling supply.

Cell towers in Fort Bend County southwest of Houston had generators freezing, running out of fuel or both, interrupting service in parts of the county, County Judge K.P. George wrote on Twitter.

“Conditions are deteriorating on all roadways. Roads are impassable. Do not travel. Stay at your location,” George tweeted early Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to be below freezing throughout Tuesday in roughly the state’s northern half, and they may just reach above it in Houston and San Antonio, according to a National Weather Service forecast.

While snow has fallen across much of Texas, more snow and ice are expected for much of the state Tuesday afternoon or evening through Wednesday as part of a larger storm system.

Up to 6 more inches of snow could fall in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, while freezing rain is forecast for Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

The frigid weather has led to widespread power outages in more than a dozen other states. More outages may be ahead, including in Nebraska, where a utility in Hastings asked residents Tuesday to prepare for rolling blackouts to handle “unprecedented energy demand.”

Southwest Power Pool, which manages electrical grid operations in North Texas and 16 other states, said Monday it had asked member utilities to implement rolling blackouts.

Water shut off in Abilene

The Texas city of Abilene said it was forced to shut off water service Monday evening because of a power outage at three water treatment plants.

The city of about 120,000 people is located about a 150-mile drive west of Fort Worth.

“It is not known exactly when power and subsequent water service will be returned to Abilene water customers,” a statement from city officials reads.

When service is restored, a boil water notice will be in effect, and customers should bring water to a vigorous boil for at least two minutes before consumption, according to the statement.

Texans with electricity are asked to conserve as much as possible in an effort to relieve the demand on the state’s power grid and help restore service,” according to the city’s statement.

State’s largest school district closes

Several of the state’s school districts announced that classes — both in-person and virtual — will be canceled due to the weather.

The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, will be closed Tuesday due to freezing weather, according to a message on the district’s website.

To the north, the Dallas Independent School District, as well as the neighboring Arlington and Fort Worth Independent School Districts also will be closed Tuesday, according to statements on the district’s websites.

Fort Worth’s closures run through Wednesday while Dallas schools are closed through Thursday.

Covid-19 vaccines and appointments at risk

The storm has complicated Covid-19 vaccinations, causing appointments to be postponed and threatening supplies.

No first-dose vaccines are being shipped to Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District Monday and Tuesday due to winter weather, according to a news release from the city.

San Antonio postponed vaccine appointments scheduled for Tuesday at the Alamodome stadium until Saturday, according to a news release from the city.

“With the current icy conditions expected to remain until at least tomorrow, we want to ensure the safety of the public. We also want to remind the public who may be concerned about the small delay for their second dose, that we are still within CDC guidelines to ensure the vaccine will still work with no issues,” the release stated.

After power was lost at the Harris County Public Health Department Building and backup generators failed, officials had to race to allocate and save 8,400 vaccines before they spoiled, Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo said Monday.

Harris County officials settled on Houston’s Ben Taub, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Methodist Hospitals, as well as Rice University and the Harris County Jail as the locations to receive the vaccine overnight, Hidalgo said.

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