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New crisis in the US after storm: lack of water in cities

States in the United States battered by winter storms that left millions without power for days have traded one crisis for another: Broken pipes caused by cold temperatures have caused a shortage of drinking water, closed airports and shaken hospitals.

Texas authorities ordered 7 million people – a quarter of the population of the second-largest state in the Union – to boil tap water before drinking it because the low pressure can allow bacteria to infiltrate. A man died in an Abilene hospital because low water pressure made treatment impossible.

Some 260,000 homes and shops in Tennessee’s largest county, which includes the city of Memphis, must boil their water due to mains ruptures and pumping station problems. Memphis International Airport canceled all passenger flights.

In Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of 161,000 was without water. Crews were pumping water to refill tanks, but water treatment chemicals were lacking because ice on the roads made distribution difficult, said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

“Getting more water for our distribution system is an extreme challenge,” Lumumba said.

The municipality provided water for the toilets and for drinking, but it had to be collected in certain places, a task also made difficult by the ice and cold.

Lisa Thomas said the driveway to her car, on a hill, was an ice sheet. Her husband, connected to a defibrillator and a heart monitor, had medicine until Sunday because she has not been able to get to a pharmacy.

Water problems are the latest hardship neighbors have faced after days without heat or power as ice and snow storms forced utilities from Minnesota to Texas to schedule blackouts to ease pressure on the networks.

Grid operators in Texas said Friday that the system has been normalized for the first time since the storm cut off more than 4 million users of power. Minor blackouts persisted, but ERCOT President Bill Magness said the network has sufficient capacity to supply the entire system.

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered an investigation into the failure in the US energy capital, while ERCOT officials defended their preparations and the decision to carry out blackouts beginning Monday.

President Joe Biden said he called Abbott Thursday night to offer additional support from the federal government.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said residents of America’s fourth largest city will likely have to boil running water until Sunday or Monday.