“We’re at a point in the restoration where we’re going to keep energizing circuits as fast as we safely can until we run out of available generation,” ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin said in a statement Wednesday night. “We hope to make significant progress overnight.”
Angel Garcia, a nurse from Killeen, Texas, told CNN that she and her family are monitoring their 5-month old son, who was born premature and is running out of oxygen supply.
The family, with no heat in their home, has resorted to burning their toddler’s toy blocks as firewood.
“A lot of people don’t know the severity of what’s going on. People are tearing down their fences to burn,” Garcia said, in tears.
Another round of harsh weather is forecast. A winter weather warning is in effect from Central to East Texas, including Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Amarillo, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Snow is expected to fall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with ice and freezing rain further south as far as Laredo and Corpus Christi.
Temperatures will rise Friday, yet overnight conditions throughout the weekend will remain below freezing. Icing on bridges and overpasses will remain a threat until late Sunday into Monday.
Since last Thursday, 16 Texans have died due to the extreme weather, according to a CNN tally.
Boil-water advisories for millions
Residents are under strict advisories concerning not just the weather, but also available water supplies. The freezing temperatures are causing frozen pipes to burst and waste water to overflow.
Qiana Abrams, her husband and two young children have been staying at a hotel near Dallas since Monday after their apartment lost power. They returned Wednesday to see if it had been restored, yet found their entire apartment covered in water.
Abrams told CNN no one from the apartment complex had contacted them about the leak, sharing the frustration felt by many who say they have been left behind during the storm.
She said her children both have birthdays later this month, and “we don’t even have anywhere to celebrate,” she said.
“They think it’s an adventure, so they are OK. They were pretty upset seeing all the water in the house, but they are OK,” she said.
Across the state, officials are warning of continued problems with water supply. Nearly seven million Texans were under boil-water notices Wednesday, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Commissioner Toby Baker.
Fort Hood city leaders asked residents to conserve 40% of their water during the storm due to water line breaks and subsequent flooding.
“While the water system is filling up and many residents already have water, we are unable to process wastewater. This means wastewater is overflowing in some areas,” according to the city.
In need of food and medicine supplies
Blake Matthew, director of field operation, told CNN that prescription medicines will be delivered to more than 30 locations in Northeast Texas, including nursing homes, smaller hospitals and rehab facilities.
“We go where other people don’t want to go,” Matthew said. “We are going to help by going into these locations.”
Matthew said emergency drops have already been made in Louisiana and Mississippi. Some volunteers will also have chainsaws to clear trees from roads if needed, with the backseats of their cars filled with cases of water and food for distribution, he said.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller pointed out the additional dangers the storm has wrought this week to the state’s food supply, asking Gov. Greg Abbott to designate agriculture producers and processors as critical infrastructure to get power returned.
“I’m getting calls from farmers and ranchers across the state reporting that the interruptions in electricity and natural gas are having a devastating effect on their operations,” Miller said in a statement.
“Grocery stores are already unable to get shipments of dairy products. Store shelves are already empty. We’re looking at a food supply chain problem like we’ve never seen before, even with Covid-19,” Miller continued.
Philip Shelley, a resident of Fort Worth, told CNN that he, his wife Amber and 11-month-old daughter Ava are struggling to stay warm and fed. Amber is pregnant and due April 4.
“(Ava) is down to half a can of formula,” Philip said. “Stores are out if not extremely low on food. Most of our food in the refrigerator is spoiled. Freezer food is close to thawed but we have no way to heat it up.”
Governor calls for investigation
Gov. Abbott said Wednesday afternoon that he spoke with both the lieutenant governor and the state speaker, and that an investigation of ERCOT is slated to begin next week.
“That will begin a process where we fully evaluate exactly what was done, and maybe what was not done in both the decision process, as well as the action process by ERCOT, making sure that we get to the root of any missteps that took place, what was done what can be done better,” Abbott said.
The pressure facing ERCOT was underscored when it removed the bios of its executive team and board members because they were receiving threats, a spokesperson told CNN.
Abbott on Wednesday also defended his recent Fox News interview in which he blamed the state’s energy issues on Green New Deal policies and the use of wind turbines. “What I made clear was the fact that if we relied solely upon green energy that would be a challenge, but in Texas, we do not rely solely upon clean energy, we have access to all sources of energy,” Abbott said.
Many of the state’s natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities were not prepared for extreme winter weather and were largely knocked out by the latest storm. ERCOT said late Wednesday that 43,000 megawatts of generation were still offline, and of that, “26,500 MW is thermal and nearly 17,000 MW is wind and solar.”
US Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat who represents parts of Fort Worth and Dallas, said he’s learned from an industry executive that the power grid was just minutes from failing on Monday before state agency officials initiated emergency rolling outages.
“I want people to know that we were minutes away from the entire grid crashing,” he told CNN’s Ed Lavandera, criticizing ERCOT and Republican leaders for not better preparing for the freeze.
Other local officials have criticized the situation the state has faced.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday that politicians should not be using the storm to push political agendas.
“It’s disappointing that some folks are using their energy to try and gaslight, try and focus on these culture wars to say that this is caused by wind energy in a state where we know that the bulk of our energy is not wind energy,” Hidalgo said.
While discussing Houston’s severe weather conditions, Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday that state leaders have “failed” their constituents.
Acevedo said he thinks residents “are hurting because our state leaders that, quite frankly, half the time are busy meddling in local governments, more interested in running local governments than to do what they’re supposed to do, which is keep the lights on.”
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Ed Lavandera, Dave Alsup, Amanda Jackson, Andy Rose, Raja Razek, Barbara Starr, Eric Levenson, Madeline Holcombe, Christina Zdanowicz and Suzanne Presto contributed to this report.