Hospitals face water shortages after winter storm


HOUSTON (AP) – Hospitals across the South grappled with water shortages Sunday in the wake of a devastating winter storm as the region continued recovery efforts and the weather offered a welcome respite – temperatures into the mid-60s. .

At the height of last week’s storm, hospitals rushed to treat patients amid record cold temperatures, snow and ice that hit parts of the country more used to wintering in light jackets and short sleeves. The ice blast ruptured the main, left millions of utility customers without power and contributed to at least 76 deaths, half of which occurred in Texas. At least seven people died in Tennessee and four in Portland, Oregon.

A rural hospital in Anahuac, Texas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Houston, lost water and electricity.

William Kiefer, chief executive of Chambers Health, which runs the hospital along with two clinics and a wellness center, said the facility drew on backup generators and water from a 275-gallon storage tank. They refilled it three times with water from a swimming pool in the wellness center.

When temperatures were in their teens last Monday, a woman who was about to give birth entered the hospital after she was unable to navigate the ice and snow to her hospital in suburban Houston. Emergency room staff delivered the baby safely, Kiefer said.

“It would have taken him another two hours to get (to the Houston suburban hospital) if our facilities weren’t there,” he said. “We can probably assume that she would have had the baby in her car and in the snow. It’s not a good situation. “

Water was restored Thursday and operations returned to normal on Sunday, it said. The health system plans to consider installing more sophisticated backup systems, he said.

Houston Methodist Hospital spokeswoman Gale Smith said water had been restored at two community hospitals in the system, which was dealing with an influx of dialysis patients after its local centers closed, it added.

After temperatures dropped as much as 40 degrees below normal last week, the forecast for the Houston area called for a high of 65 degrees (18 degrees Celsius) on Sunday. The city lifted its notice to boil the water on Sunday afternoon.

About 30,000 Texans were still without power due to downed power lines and other equipment failures. Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference that he expected all service to be restored on Sunday night or Monday.

Abbott also said it was concerned about the threat of huge electricity bills after wholesale energy prices soared while power plants were offline. He said it would be the “top priority” for the Legislature, vowing not to end the legislative session until lawmakers make sure the state’s power grid is adapted to handle extreme winter and summer weather.

Nearly 230,000 customers across the South were still without power as of Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that tracks power outages. Other major blackouts occurred in Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon.

Memphis, Tennessee, saw 10 inches of snow last week. Memphis, Light, Gas & Water issued a boil water advisory Thursday out of concern that low water pressure caused by problems at aging pump stations and ruptured water mains could lead to contamination. The notice was still in effect on Sunday; utility officials said they didn’t know when they might pick it up.

About 260,000 homes and businesses were under the advisory. Hospitals and nursing homes have been forced to switch to bottled water. The Tennessee National Guard was supplying water to St. Francis Hospital.

Nearby Baptist Memorial Hospital has taken in some of St. Francis’ patients, particularly those needing dialysis, said Dr. Jeff Wright, a Baptist pulmonary and intensive care physician. That hospital has a water purification system for dialysis and has water reserves for tasks like cooking and bathing patients, he said.

“We have gallon jugs of water that were already stocked and ready to roll on day one,” Wright said.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare also reported problems at some of its facilities in the Memphis area due to water pressure issues and the boil warning. The system uses tanker trucks to increase water pressure and relies on the help of facilities that have not been affected.

City officials planned to distribute water bottles in various locations on Sunday. Grocery stores struggled to keep shelves stocked with bottled water. Many restaurants remained closed.

In Washington, the White House said that about a third of the COVID-19 vaccine doses delayed by the storm were delivered over the weekend.

The weather created a backlog of about 6 million doses as power outages closed some vaccination centers and freezing weather stranded the vaccine at shipping centers. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC’s “This Week” that about 2 million of those doses have come out.

President Joe Biden is eager to visit Texas, which was hit especially hard by the weather, Psaki said. Biden hopes to travel to the state this week, but “does not want to take resources” from the response, he said. Biden declared a major disaster in Texas on Saturday.

“He is … well aware of the fact that it is not easy for a president to travel to a disaster area.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CBS “Face the Nation” that Biden can come at any time.

“We will certainly welcome him,” Turner said.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul told CNN’s “State of the Union” that federal disaster aid can be used to repair broken pipes and flood damage and to help Texans affected by skyrocketing energy bills.

McCaul also criticized the decision of fellow Republican Senator Ted Cruz to take his family on vacation. in the middle of the crisis.

“When a crisis hits my state, I am there,” McCaul said. “I’m not going on vacation. I know that Mr. Cruz called it a mistake, and he acknowledged it. But I think it was a big mistake. “

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Mattise reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee. Associated Press writers Hope Yen in Austin, Texas, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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