Devastated by ice storm, Texans are now hunting food and safe water

Texas Food Shortage

Media reports from U.S. said:

The slow-moving winter disaster pummeling Texas that began with snow, ice and widespread blackouts is now moving into a new phase: A dire lack of food and fresh water. Millions do not have safe water at home, and residents looking for groceries or bottled water said they arrived to stores with bare shelves and long lines. At least 56 people have died because of extreme weather conditions from 10 U.S. states since Thursday, the majority in Texas.

Supermarket chains that remained open in past disasters have shuttered in the face of power outages and impassable roads. Cities like Houston and Austin are on citywide water boil orders, even though many homes do not have power. Stores that are open are often lined with empty shelves, as delivery trucks struggle to reach them over still-icy roads.

Joe Giovannoli, 29, arrived at a Central Market supermarket in Austin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, an hour-and-a-half before it opened. Minutes later, more than 200 people had lined up behind him in the biting 26-degree weather.

Giovannoli’s wife is three months pregnant and the power in their one-bedroom Austin apartment blinked out Tuesday night. After a water pipe broke, firefighters also turned off the building’s water, he said.

One of those waiting in line behind him was Johnny LaTouf, 62, owner of the Skylark Lounge, a well-known blues club in East Austin. LaTouf’s home never lost power but his ex-wife, son, two daughters and their families all lost power and moved in with him: 10 people, five dogs and one turtle in total.

A few minutes before the store opened its doors, a manager stepped outside and warned those waiting in line that supplies inside were low: No produce, no baked goods, not much canned food.

“We haven’t had a delivery in four days,” he said.

In Harris County, the largest in Texas with nearly 5 million residents, more than 33,000 homes remained without power Thursday and thousands of people didn’t have access to clean water, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top executive. When the power went out at Harris County Public Health Department and then the generator failed, officials had to rescue more than 8,000 COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

Texas officials have ordered 7 million people across the state to boil tap water before drinking it, following days of record-low temperatures that shuttered water treatment plants and froze pipes. At least two Austin-area hospitals lost water pressure and heat and one was forced to evacuate some patients. More than three dozen deaths across the U.S. over the past few days have been blamed on the extreme weather.

As of early Thursday, more than 450,000 homes and businesses across Texas remained without power, down from a peak of more than 4 million earlier in the week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced plans to deploy more than 700,000 liters of bottled water, more than 60,000 blankets and industrial-sized generators to help power hospitals and other critical structures.

But the immediate lack of supplies has made a tough situation tougher.

People throughout Texas pinned down by icy roads and lacking power and water have ventured out to stores only to find long lines snaking around the building or shelves bereft of basic items, like milk, bread and bottled water.

H-E-B supermarkets, known to reliably stay open during most disasters, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017, were forced to close or reduce hours of many of its stores this week due to power outages, according to its website. As of Thursday, 10 stores in the supermarket chain, which includes Central Market stores, in Central Texas remained closed.

Delivering food to those in need has been a struggle throughout the state. Workers and volunteers at the San Antonio Food Bank are used to delivering groceries and prepared meals to evacuees from other disasters, including 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in southern Louisiana and evacuees from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

But since the winter storm arrived Sunday, volunteers have not been able to come in and delivery trucks have been paralyzed, he said.

The food bank teamed up with San Antonio police and firefighters to bring snacks and meals to residents running out of supplies, Cooper said.

Even as the ice thaws and power gets restored, water would not immediately return to homes in the Austin area, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said. Reservoirs, which hold up to 100 million gallons, need to refill, and water samples need to be tested for harmful bacteria before restoring service, he said.

County officials have been scouring warehouses for water supplies and emergency response officials will be working to bring water to hospitals and homes well after temperatures warm and lights turn on in homes.

As of Friday morning, more than half a million people in the U.S. did not have electricity — Texas topped the list with less than 200,000 power outages, according to tracking website

In Texas, more than 14 million people were under boil water orders in the wake of a winter storm that froze and bursted pipes, creating chaos for water treatment facilities, according to spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Memphis International Airport was forced to temporarily close its passenger terminal and cancel all flights due to water pressure issues.

When firefighters arrived at a fire at a San Antonio-area apartment building Thursday, their efforts were hampered by frozen hydrants. Crews had to shuttle in water to try to get the blaze, which displaced dozens, under control.

Princess Tensley of Houston had no water service and intermittent power. Her cousin’s family is also living in the home because they had no power or water, and they tried to buy supplies at stores Thursday but had no luck.

“We only have like two cases of water left. … So, we’re trying to divide it between two families, and it’s really hard,” Tensley said. “We don’t know what the next day is going to look like, and that’s the scary part.”


Austin cook Cesar Urías, 40, helped feed his community with ingredients from a restaurant that gave away food after losing power. Urías, who had not lost power, used the chicken and bread for sandwiches, which he then offered through a Facebook post and later delivered.

“I had 12 families yesterday that had three to seven children. Some were in their cars. It was very awful,” Urías said. The cook said he had hoped to make more, but ended up joining other Austin residents scrounging for slim pickings on grocery and convenience store shelves.

Winter storms have left part of other states powerless: Mississippi had more than 100,000 customers out and Louisiana more than 70,000.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves compared the damage to a hurricane.

In Oregon, around 73,000 customers were without power Thursday night after last week’s storms, utility Portland General Electric said.

In Louisiana, around 20,000 people had been without power since Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a Thursday news conference.

More than 245,000 people in the state were affected by dozens of water outages, Edwards said. Boil water advisories affected around 1 million, he said.

In Vidalia in northeast Louisiana, Betsy Sawyer’s water was cut off for part of Thursday, and she had not had electricity since Wednesday. She filled a bathtub with water to prepare.

In Arkansas, a 69-year-old man was found dead earlier this week after falling into a frozen pond while trying to rescue a calf.

In Louisiana, three people died, including a 50-year-old man who slipped on ice in Lafayette Parish and hit his head on Monday, according to the state health department. Three people died in crashes on ice- and snow-covered roads in Kentucky, officials said.

In Kentucky, two women died from hypothermia after their residences lost power, according to Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond. Mabel Webb’s building was without power for two to three days before maintenance workers found the 77-year-old woman, he said. The other victim was described as an 86-year-old woman who had arrhythmia and went into cardiac arrest, officials said.

Texas power grid was ‘seconds or minutes’ from catastrophic collapse

Widespread rolling blackouts ceased Friday in Texas, but days ago the state was “seconds or minutes” away from the risk of its electric grid catastrophically failing, according to the top manager of the grid.

Major generation units began failing in rapid succession as Sunday night rolled into Monday morning while demand skyrocketed, said Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council, in a news briefing Thursday.

The controlled outages that have ravaged the state were the only way to avert an even more dire blackout in Texas, Magness said.

Billboards demand Ted Cruz resignation

Texans are contending with the unforeseen consequences of the deadly winter storm that has left hundreds of thousands of people without power and millions without clean running water.

Firefighters have been faced with frozen water hydrants while trying to control fires, while a couple caring for their premature baby were forced to ration his oxygen tanks. Pets have been found abandoned in the snow.

Ted Cruz has attempted to defend his decision to fly to Cancun, Mexico after returned home to jeering crowds. The U.S. senator said he was just “trying to be a dad” by taking his daughters out of the freezing state to the popular holiday destination. He admitted that the decision was “obviously a mistake” amid calls for his resignation.



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