8 million Texans boiling water after the winter blast

SAN ANTONIO – On Tuesday, eight million Texans were boiling their water to make it safe to drink as squads of plumbers and engineers struggled to repair the damage done to countless homes and businesses by a cruel winter storm.

Many Texans also faced food shortages as grocery stores tried to stay stocked, large crowds flocked to food pantries, and the pandemic continued to threaten a state where, according to the latest NBC News data, nearly 43,000 people have died of Covid- 19 and 2.6. millions of people have been infected.

About 24,000 people were left without running water Tuesday after the public water systems they depend on were “inoperative” by the unusually cold winter blast, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported.

Members of the Texas National Guard help load cars at the San Antonio Food Bank’s evening distribution on February 23, 2021.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

And in some places where the water was recently restored, what was coming out of the tap left a lot to be desired.

“The water itself, it really comes out all yellow,” San Antonio mother Evelyn Esquivel told NBC News.

But at least Esquivel had water. Water service in rural areas is being restored at a much slower rate, authorities said.

“It’s safe to say that we’ve literally never seen anything like this,” Toby Baker, executive director of the environmental quality commission, told NBC News’ Austin affiliate in the state capital. “So our regional offices are consistently trying to communicate and be proactive in trying to reach out to those smaller rural water systems to say, ‘Hey, what do you need?’”

Still, the commission reported that considerable progress had been made since Saturday, when 1,445 public water systems reported service outages due to the cold, affecting 14.4 million Texans in 190 counties.

Additionally, while power had been restored to much of Texas after the state’s electrical grid went out of business due to historically low temperatures, many people have also been hit by massive electricity bills because power shortages mean higher prices. high in the state market system.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and free market advocate, has already promised to protect consumers from “unreasonable bills.”

“Texans who have experienced very cold days without power should not be subject to skyrocketing energy bills due to a surge in the energy market,” Abbott said Sunday.

State Representative Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, told NBC News Tuesday that “this situation is by no means over.”

“We had millions of Texans already in a pretty deep recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Anchía said. “We already had people in a fragile state, and when you add to that with the worst winter storm and disaster in the entire state…. people who could barely hold on are completely annihilated. “

Volunteers deliver food and water at a San Antonio Food Bank self-service food distribution site on February 19, 2021.Eric Gay / AP

But after tormenting Texas for a week, Mother Nature was now lending a hand. It was 70 degrees and sunny in Houston on Tuesday, a far cry from the freezing temperatures that some parts of Texas experienced just days ago.

The forecast for Friday, when President Joe Biden was expected to visit Houston, the largest city in Texas, to verify recovery efforts, was a more typical winter high of 64 degrees with cloudy conditions, according to The Weather Channel.

However, there was still a lot of work to be done to get Texas back to normal.

“Nearly half of the residents in one of the largest states in the US are experiencing a plumbing catastrophe due to ruptured pipes due to freezing temperatures and significant power outages,” said George Greene IV of Water Mission, a South Carolina-based Christian engineering organization that typically works in developing countries on community water and sanitation development projects, and responds to disasters where emergency access to clean water is needed.

“Not having water in your home means you can’t flush, shower, or do laundry,” Greene said.

Water Mission is developing an action plan to make repairs that will take weeks, if not months, to complete and has asked a partner organization, Plumbers Without Borders, to call in 1,600 licensed volunteers to help with the massive repair job, it said. the group’s spokesperson. Gregg Dinino.

Michael Ybarra, right, had tried to buy groceries during the storm but his car broke down. He was collecting water from the San Antonio food bank.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

In San Antonio, traffic was heavy at the city’s main food bank, where members of the Texas National Guard and volunteers from a Mormon church were helping distribute supplies and a line of cars stretched about two miles from the parking lot. when a reporter from NBC News came by Tuesday.

Louie Guzman, director of development at the Food Bank, said they see about 150 people on most days. Since the storm, the numbers have risen to around 400 a day.

“We are seeing greater participation in the days that we do not anticipate,” Guzmán said. “In the afternoon here, they normally anticipate between 150 and 200, but we have seen twice that due to the storm.”

One of those waiting in line was Esquivel, 38, who said that in addition to her husband and three children, she has her parents and two siblings staying at her home. And even though medical experts warned not to have too many people in the house during a pandemic, Esquivel said he couldn’t get them through.

“Honestly, I didn’t think about Covid, that was the last thing I did,” he said. “I was just trying to survive and trying to stay warm because it was cold. It was cold.”

Esquivel said the power was back on, but the water coming out of the tap is sickly yellow and has been boiling. She said she came to the Food Bank because her husband has been struggling to find a job in construction and because her local grocery store had been largely cleaned up.

“There was no water at all, no milk, just pasta and stuff,” he said.

Having had little experience with snowstorms, Esquivel said it didn’t occur to him to stock up on staples ahead of time.

“We survived,” he said. “We can say that we are blessed and we survive.”

Michael Ybarra stocked up before the storm, but after the power went out, there was only enough space in the insulated chest that he hid outside in the snow for the meat he had bought. Then the milk and the eggs went bad.

“This situation is pretty bad,” said Ybarra, 40. “We lost a lot of food and stuff.”

Gamboa reported from San Antonio and Siemaszko from Montclair, NJ.

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