Southern US states face lengthy clean-up operation after bitter winter weather

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Southern Us States Face Lengthy Clean-Up Operation After Bitter Winter Weather
Winter weather, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Adrian Sainz, Paul Weber and Acacia Coronado, Associated Press

Warmer temperatures have spread across the southern United States, bringing some relief to a region that faces a challenging clean-up and expensive repairs from days of extreme cold and widespread power outages.

In hard-hit Texas, where millions were warned to boil tap water before drinking it, the warm-up is expected to last for several days.

US president Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Texas on Friday, directing federal agencies to help in the recovery.


Volunteers load water for people at a San Antonio Food Bank drive-through food distribution site (Eric Gay/AP)

The fallout included burst water pipes and shortages of clean drinking water, the closure of the airport at Memphis and hospitals struggling to maintain sanitary conditions.

At least 69 deaths have been blamed on the weather, including that of a man at an Abilene health care facility where the lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.

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Many people who perished were struggling to get warm.

A Tennessee farmer died trying to save two calves that apparently wandered onto a frozen pond.

About 260,000 homes and businesses in the Tennessee county which includes Memphis were told to boil water because of water mains ruptures and pumping station problems.


Pocahontas Volunteer Fire Department’s Trace Tyson, left, and JR Holland, fill containers with water for Jackson metro area residents at the Metrocentre Mall in Jackson, Mississippi (Eric Shelton/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

Restaurants that could not do so or did not have bottled water were ordered to close.

Water pressure problems prompted Memphis International Airport to cancel all incoming and outgoing Friday flights, but the passenger terminal was expected to reopen by mid-afternoon on Saturday.

The storms left more than 300,000 still without power across the country by Saturday morning.

About 60,000 in Oregon on Friday are still enduring a week-long outage following a massive ice and snow storm.

Oregon’s governor ordered the National Guard to go door-to-door in the hardest-hit areas to ensure residents have enough food and water.

In Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of about 161,000 had no running water.


Water to be loaded into vehicles is stacked at a City of Houston water distribution site (David Phillip/AP)

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Crews pumped water to refill city tanks but faced a shortage of chemicals for treatment because icy roads made it difficult for distributors to deliver them, mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

He said the city’s water mains are more than 100 years old and not built to handle the freezing weather that hit the city as multiple storms dumped record amounts of snow across the South.

“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” said Mr Lumumba.

The city is providing water for flushing toilets and drinking, but residents have to pick supplies up, leaving the elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.

The water woes were the latest misery for people across the South who went without heat or electricity for days after the ice and snow storms earlier in the week forced rolling blackouts from Minnesota to Texas.


City of Austin Water Utility worker Salvador Tinajero repairs a broken water main (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Texas electrical grid operators said electricity transmission had returned to normal for the first time since historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand that buckled the state’s power grid and caused the widespread blackouts.

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Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), said the grid now can provide power throughout the system.

Texas governor Greg Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure for a state known as the US energy capital.

Ercot officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin forced outages on Monday as the grid reached breaking point.


US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez volunteers at the Houston Food Bank (Houston Chronicle/AP)

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

As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,300 Texas public water systems and 159 counties had reported weather-related operational disruptions affecting more than 14.9 million people, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Tiffany Young.

Houston residents probably will have to boil tap water until Sunday or Monday, mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Meanwhile, more than 192,000 Louisiana residents – some still struggling to recover from last August’s Hurricane Laura – had no water service on Friday, according to the state health department. Tens of thousands more remained under boil-water advisories.

Bulk and bottled water deliveries are planned for the hardest-hit areas with a focus on hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis centres, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said, adding that he was hopeful that warmer weather expected during the weekend would speed up repairs.

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