AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation Now) — States slammed by winter storms that left millions without power for days have traded one crisis for another: Broken water pipes brought on by record-low temperatures have created a shortage of clean drinking water, shut down airports and left hospitals scrambling.
In Texas, 14 million people — almost half of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — are dealing with water issues. Many have been ordered to boil tap water before drinking it because low water pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system. A man died at an Abilene health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.
President Biden confirmed he plans to visits Texas sometime next week to oversee disaster relief, but doesn’t want his visit to be a burden on those responding to the crisis.
About 260,000 homes and businesses in Tennessee’s largest county, which includes Memphis, were told to boil water due to water main ruptures and problems at pumping stations. Memphis International Airport canceled all incoming and outgoing passenger flights Friday due to water pressure issues.
And in Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of about 161,000 was without water. 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.
“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” Lumumba said.
The city was providing water for flushing toilets and drinking, but residents had to drive to set locations to pick it up – leaving elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.
Lisa Thomas said her driveway, located on a hill, is a sheet of ice. Her husband, who is on a defibrillator and heart monitor, is running out of his heart medication, with enough to get him through Sunday, because she hasn’t been able to make it to the pharmacy to refill it.
“It would be nice to have some type of answers,” she said. “People are in dire need here. We need urgent help.”
Texas Governor Abbott confirmed during a press conference Friday morning that he spoke with President Biden about the ongoing crisis Thursday night along with the need or more FEMA relief.
Biden announced he would sign a major disaster declaration for Texas, possibly Friday afternoon. The measure would allow the government to provide more aid to the state along with giving Texans the ability to apply for individual assistance from FEMA.
The water woes were the latest misery for residents left without heat or electricity for days after ice and snow storms swept through early in the week, forcing utilities from Minnesota to Texas to implement rolling blackouts to ease strained power grids.
Texas’ grid operators said Friday that the system has returned to normal for the first time since a storm knocked out power to more than 4 million customers. Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, says the grid again has enough capacity to provide power throughout the entire system.
Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered an investigation into the failure in the energy capital of the U.S., while ERCOT officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin forced outages early Monday as the grid reached a breaking point.
Friday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted that county which is home to Houston and next to Galveston Bay, saw 10 deaths from hypothermia and over 600 cases related to carbon monoxide poisoning this week “and still counting.”
An 11 year old boy in Conroe Texas also died Tuesday morning after his mobile home got down to 12 degrees. His mother suspected he died of hypothermia after two days without electricity.
The storms also left more than 330,000 from Virginia to Louisiana without power and about 71,000 in Oregon were still enduring a weeklong outage following a massive ice and snow storm.
The extreme weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 70 people, including a Tennessee farmer trying to save two calves that apparently wandered into a frozen pond. A growing number of people have perished trying to keep warm.
Federal Emergency Management Agency acting administrator Bob Fenton said teams were in Texas with fuel, water, blankets and other supplies.
In many areas, water pressure dropped after lines froze and because people left faucets dripping to prevent pipes from icing, authorities said.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,000 Texas public water systems and 177 of the state’s 254 counties had reported weather-related operational disruptions, affecting more than 14 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Abbott urged Texas residents to shut off water to prevent more busted pipes and preserve municipal system pressure.
“Restoring water to Texans also means helping Texans deal with maybe their largest challenge in the next week and that is busted water pipes. We cannot emphasize it enough about home owners and renters being prepared to deal with the consequence of busted water pipes, ” said Abbott.
Two of Houston Methodist’s community hospitals had no running water and still treated patients but canceled most non-emergency surgeries and procedures for Thursday and possibly Friday, said spokeswoman Gale Smith.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said residents will probably have to boil tap water in the fourth-largest U.S. city until Sunday or Monday.
Central Arkansas Water, which services the Little Rock area, asked customers to conserve water to help protect the system as the ground began to warm and pipes thaw.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the worst of the state’s water outages were in north Louisiana and in the southwest city of Lake Charles, which still was struggling to recover from Hurricane Laura. He said bulk and bottled water deliveries were planned Friday to hardest-hit areas and would be focused on hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis centers.
Edwards said he was grateful that warmer weather was forecasted across Louisiana by Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.