SAN ANTONIO – Eight million Texans boiled their water to make it drinkable Tuesday as squads of plumbers and engineers struggled to repair damage to countless homes and businesses from a cruel winter storm.
Many Texans also faced food shortages as grocery stores tried to keep stocked, huge crowds descended on pantries and the pandemic continued to threaten a state where, according to the latest data from NBC News, nearly 43,000 people have died from Covid-19 and 2.6. millions of people have been infected.
Some 24,000 people were without running water on Tuesday after the public water systems they depend on were rendered “non-operational” by the unusually cold winter explosion, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported. .
And in some places where the water has been recently restored, what came 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 pace, officials said.
“It’s safe to say we’ve literally never seen anything like it,” Toby Baker, executive director of the Environmental Quality Commission, told the NBC News branch in the state capital. , Austin. “So our regional offices are systematically trying to reach out and be proactive in trying to reach out to these small rural water systems and say, ‘Hey, what do you need?’”
Still, the commission said considerable progress had been made since Saturday, when 1,445 public water systems reported cold outages, affecting 14.4 million Texans in 190 counties.
Additionally, as electricity was restored to much of Texas after the state’s power grid warped in the face of historically low temperatures, many people were also hit with massive electricity bills. because the scarcity of electricity means higher prices in the state market system.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican free-market champion, has previously pledged to protect consumers from “unreasonable bills.”
“Texans who have suffered through freezing cold days without electricity should not be subject to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market,” Abbott said Sunday.
State Representative Rafael Anchía, a Democrat from Dallas, told NBC News on Tuesday that “this situation is not over by far.”
“We had millions of Texans who were already suffering from a pretty deep recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Anchía said. “We had people already in a fragile state, and when you make it worse with the worst winter storm and disaster in the entire state.. The people who barely held on are completely devastated.”
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 sub-zero temperatures parts of Texas experienced just days ago.
According to The Weather Channel, the forecast for Friday, when President Joe Biden was due to travel to Houston, the largest city in Texas, to check on recovery efforts, was a more typical winter maximum of 64 degrees with cloudy conditions.
Still, there was still a lot of work to be done to bring Texas back to normal.
“Almost half of the residents of one of the largest states in the United States suffer a plumbing disaster from bursting pipes due to freezing temperatures and severe power outages,” said George Greene IV of Water Mission, a Christian engineering organization based in South Carolina. normally works in developing countries on community development projects for safe water and sanitation and responds to disasters where emergency access to safe drinking water is required.
“Not having water in the house means you can’t flush the toilet, shower, or wash your clothes,” 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 1,600 licensed volunteers to help with the massive repair job , said the spokesperson for the group. Gregg Dinino.
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 helped distribute supplies and a line of cars extended to about three. miles from the parking lot when an NBC News reporter came by on Tuesday.
Louie Guzman, development director at the food bank, said most of the time they saw around 150 people. Since the storm, the numbers have risen to around 400 per day.
“We see more participation on the days we don’t anticipate,” Guzman said. “In the afternoon here, they’re normally forecasting 150-200, but we’ve seen double that because of the storm.”
Esquivel, 38, said that in addition to her husband and their three children, she has her parents and two brothers at home. And even though medical experts have warned of having too many people in the house during a pandemic, Esquivel said she can’t turn them away.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about Covid, it was my last thing,” she said. “I was just trying to survive and stay warm because it was cold. It was cold. “
Esquivel said her power was on but the water coming out of the tap was sickly yellow and she had boiled it. She said she came to the food bank because her husband was struggling to find a job in construction and because his local grocery store had largely been cleaned up.
“There was no water at all, no milk, just pasta and stuff,” she said.
Having little experience with blizzards, Esquivel said it never occurred to him to stock up on staples in advance.
“We survived,” she says. “We can say that we are blessed and that we have survived.”
Michael Ybarra stocked up before the storm, but after the power cut there was only enough room in the insulated trunk, he hid outside in the snow for the meat he had bought. So spoiled milk and eggs.
“This situation is pretty bad,” said Ybarra, 40. “We lost a lot of food and other things.”
Gamboa reported from San Antonio, and Siemaszko from Montclair, NJ