Texas power outages stretch into third day as millions face freezing conditions

Anger over Texas’ power outages in the face of a record winter freeze continued to mount Wednesday as millions of residents in the energy capital of the U.S. remained shivering. There were still no assurances that their electricity and heat — out since Monday in many homes — would return soon or stay on once it finally does. 

“I know people are angry and frustrated,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday. “So am I.”

In all, nearly 3 million customers in Texas still had no power Wednesday after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts. A large swath of Texas was under yet another winter storm warning Wednesday.

Making matters worse: Expectations that the outages would be a shared sacrifice by the state’s 30 million residents quickly gave way to a cold reality as pockets in some of America’s largest cities, including San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, were left to shoulder the brunt of a catastrophic power failure n subfreezing conditions that Texas’ grid operators had known was coming.

To protect her 8-month old daughter, Terra Davis headed for Tampa, Florida, to stay with family. One night, the baby girl slept between her mom and dad in their bed just to stay warm.

“That was a really scary situation to even do, considering the fact that health officials don’t want you to sleep in the bed with your 8-month-old baby,” Davis told CBS News. “But we had to do that so we could keep her warm because keeping her warm was top priority. She was in the NICU for close to two months, so we know that she cannot afford to have pneumonia or anything like that.”

The breakdown sparked growing outrage and demands for answers over how Texas — whose Republican leaders as recently as last year taunted California over the Democratic-led state’s rolling blackouts — failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence. Texas is the only U.S. state with its own separate power grid.

Fuming Texans took to social media to highlight how, while their neighborhoods froze in the dark Monday night, downtown skylines glowed despite desperate calls to conserve energy.

“We are very angry. I was checking on my neighbor, she’s angry, too,” said Amber Nichols in north Austin. “We’re all angry because there is no reason to leave entire neighborhoods freezing to death.”

She crunched through ice wearing a parka and galoshes while her neighbors dug out their driveways from 6 inches of snow to move their cars.

“This is a complete bungle,” she said.

In some cases the desperate effort to stay warm turned deadly. Harris County emergency officials reported “several carbon monoxide deaths” in or around Houston and reminded people not to operate cars or gasoline-powered generators indoors. Authorities said three young children and their grandmother, who were believed to be trying to keep warm, also died in a suburban Houston house fire early Tuesday.

In Galveston, the medical examiner’s office requested a refrigerated truck to expand body storage although County Judge Mark Henry said he didn’t know how many deaths there had been related to the weather.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation Tuesday of the grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). His indignation struck a much different tone than just a day earlier, when he told Texans that the council was prioritizing residential customers and that power was getting restored to hundreds of thousands of homes.

But hours after those assurances, the number of outages in Texas only rose, at one point exceeding four million customers.

“This is unacceptable,” Abbott said.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca he supports an investigation, but argued the power outages were necessary to avoid greater damage.

“I think the fundamental decisions that our operators made very likely could have prevented a catastrophic blackout,” Magness told Villafranca. “The outcome of preventing that catastrophic blackout, unfortunately, turned out to be a long period of outages like we have not seen before.”

Magness said efforts were being made to restore power.

“It’s a very terrible time to be in that situation with the weather we’re having especially, but we will get those services back up,” he told Villafranca. “We will get those folks, their power on. It’s the number one priority now to do it.”

ERCOT said Wednesday morning that electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night but that 2.7 million households were still without power.

  • Don’t blame wind turbines for Texas’ historic power outages

The outages are the widest that Texas’ grid has suffered, but hardly a first in winter. A decade ago, another deep February freeze created power shortages in Texas the same week the Super Bowl was played in Arlington. A federal report later flagged failures in the system, including power plants that are unable to stand up to extreme cold.

On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Texas had requested 60 generators and that hospitals and nursing homes would get priority. Thirty-five warming shelters were opened to accommodate more than 1,000 people around the state, the agency said during a briefing. But even they weren’t spared from the outages as Houston was forced to close two on Monday because of a loss in power.

Stephanie Murdoch, 51, began bundling up inside her Dallas condominium wearing blankets, two pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, a hat and gloves since the power first went out early Monday. She said she was worried about another blast of wintry weather forecast for Tuesday night and the possibility of her home’s pipes bursting.

“There’s a serious lack of preparation on the part of the energy companies to not be ready,” Murdoch said.

In Houston, Barbara Matthews said she lasted in her home until Monday night. That’s when the 73-year-old finally called 911 and was taken to the nearby Foundry Church, where dozens of other people were also taking shelter. On the ride there, she noticed a subdivision just down the road that had power.

“It is aggravating how some parts down the street have lights and then we don’t,” Matthews said. “When they said rolling blackouts, I took them at their word.”

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