Warmer temperatures bring relief when the cold-weary south begins cleaning

DALLAS – Warmer temperatures swept across the southern United States on Saturday, bringing some relief to a winter-weary region facing difficult cleanup and costly repairs after days of extreme cold and widespread power outages.

In Texas, where millions of people were warned to boil tap water before drinking it, the warming was expected to last for several days. The thaw caused pipelines to burst across the region, adding to the list of severe conditions that were blamed for more than 70 deaths.

By Saturday afternoon, the sun had risen in Dallas and temperatures were approaching 50 degrees. People walked and jogged in suburban neighborhoods after days indoors. Many roads had dried up and patches of snow were melting. The snowmen collapsed.

Linda Nguyen woke up in a Dallas hotel room on Saturday morning with an assurance she hadn’t had in nearly a week: She and her cat had a place to sleep with electricity and water.

Power had been restored to his apartment on Wednesday, but when Nguyen got home from work the next night, he found a soaked carpet. A pipe had burst in his bedroom.

« It’s essentially uninhabitable, » said Nguyen, 27, who works in real estate. Everything is completely ruined.

The deaths attributed to the weather include a man at an Abilene healthcare facility where lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible. Officials also reported deaths from hypothermia, including homeless people and people inside buildings without electricity or heat. Others died in car accidents on icy roads or from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

About half of the deaths reported so far have occurred in Texas, with multiple deaths also in Tennessee, Kentucky, Oregon, and a few other southern and midwestern states.

A Tennessee farmer died trying to save two calves from a frozen pond.

President Joe Biden’s office said Saturday that it declared a major disaster in Texas, and ordered federal agencies to assist in the recovery.

The storms on Saturday left more than 300,000 people without power across the country, many of them in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

More than 50,000 Oregon electricity customers were among those without power, more than a week after an ice storm devastated the power grid. Portland General Electric expected to have service back to all but 15,000 customers by Friday night, but the company discovered additional damage in previously inaccessible areas.

Read more

What exactly is the polar vortex?

Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered the National Guard to go door-to-door in some areas to check on the well-being of residents. At its peak, the worst ice storm in 40 years left more than 350,000 without power.

In West Virginia, Appalachian Power in West Virginia was working on a list of about 1,500 places in need of repair, as about 44,000 customers in the state were left without power after experiencing consecutive ice storms on February 11 and 15. More than 3,200 workers were trying to reconnect power, their efforts spanning the six worst-hit counties on Saturday.

In Wayne County, West Virginia, workers had to replace the same pole three times because trees kept falling on it.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott met with lawmakers on Saturday to discuss energy prices, Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, told reporters. Some Texans could be facing massive spikes in electricity bills after wholesale energy prices soared.

Water problems added misery to people across the South who were left without heat and power for days after ice and snow storms forced continuous blackouts from Minnesota to Texas.

Robert Tuskey was retrieving tools from the back of his truck Saturday afternoon as he prepared to fix a water line at a friend’s home in Dallas.

« Everything has been freezing, » Tuskey said. « I even had one in my own home … of course I’m lucky to be a plumber. »

Tuskey, 49, said his plumbing business has received a series of calls for help from friends and relatives with broken pipes. « I am willing to go help another member of the family, » he said. « I know she has no money at all, but they don’t have water and they are older. »

In Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of 161,000 lacked running water, and officials blamed the city’s water mains, which are more than 100 years old and not built for the freezing weather.

The city was providing water for toilets and drinking, but residents had to collect it, leaving the elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.

Water pressure issues led Memphis International Airport to cancel all inbound and outbound flights on Friday, but the passenger terminal was expected to reopen mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Advocates for inmates said Louisiana prisons and jails had intermittent electricity in some facilities and frozen pipes affecting bathrooms and showers.

Sick, elderly or detained inmates not in dormitories but in cell blocks – small spaces surrounded by concrete walls – were especially vulnerable, according to Voice of the Experienced, a grassroots organization founded and run by formerly incarcerated people. The group said a man at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, south of Baton Rouge, described a thin layer of ice on its walls.

Cammie Maturin said she spoke to men at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, with 6,300 inmates, who received no additional supplies to protect themselves from the cold.

“They don’t give them extra blankets. There is nothing extra. For them, it has just been standing up for himself, « said Maturin, president of the nonprofit HOPE Foundation.

In many areas, the water pressure dropped after lines froze and because people left taps dripping to prevent pipes from freezing, authorities said.

As of Saturday, 1,445 public water systems in Texas had reported operations disrupted, said Toby Baker of the state’s Division of Environmental Quality. Government agencies were using mobile labs and coordinating to speed up water testing.

That’s more than the 1,300 reported problems Friday afternoon, but Baker said the number of affected customers had dropped by around 600,000 to 14.3 million.

« It looks like last night we may have seen some stabilization in water systems across the state, » Baker said.

Saturday’s thaw after 11 days of freezing temperatures in Oklahoma City left residents with burst water pipes, inoperable wells and furnaces that were put out of service due to brief power outages.

Rhodes College in Memphis said Friday that about 700 residential students were transferred to hotels in the suburbs of Germantown and Collierville after the school bathrooms stopped working due to low water pressure.

Firefighters put out a blaze at a fully occupied 102-room hotel in Killeen, Texas, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Austin, Friday night. The hotel’s sprinkler system did not work due to frozen pipes, authorities said Saturday.

Flames shot up from the top of the four-story hotel and three people required medical attention. The displaced guests were taken to a nearby Baptist church.

Texas power grid operators said electricity transmission returned to normal after the historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand that collapsed the state’s system.

Smaller outages were maintained, but Bill Magness, president of the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, said the grid can now provide power throughout the system.

Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure of a state known as the energy capital of the United States. ERCOT officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin the forced shutdowns on Monday when the network reached the breaking point.

The ongoing blackouts resulted in a lawsuit filed Friday in Nueces County court in Corpus Christi, alleging that ERCOT ignored repeated warnings about weaknesses in the state’s electrical infrastructure.

A Dallas law firm alleged that ERCOT and the utility company American Electric Power caused property damage and business interruptions during the cold snap.

Additionally, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued civil investigation lawsuits to ERCOT and the electric utility companies. Your research will address power outages, emergency plans, energy prices and more related to the winter storm.

By Jake Bleiberg and Mark Scolforo