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Storm threatens to blanket East Coast in ice as Texans struggle for heat and water after days without power

As hundreds of thousands of Texans struggled for heat and water because of utility outages for a fifth consecutive day, more potentially deadly storms are hitting parts of the South, mid-Atlantic and Northeast with snow and ice.

Winter weather alerts stretched Thursday from Texas, where snow and ice still was accumulating, to southern New England. The heaviest snow is expected from parts of Virginia to southern Pennsylvania, and dangerous stretches of ice are forecast in North Carolina and the Washington, DC, and Philadelphia areas, forecasters say.

At least 37 people have died nationwide from winter storms or frigid conditions since last week. And in Texas, communities are desperately seeking warmth and other necessities without electricity in freezing or near-freezing temperatures.

In Killeen, Angel Garcia and her family had been trying to keep warm in their powerless home by burning things — including her daughter’s toy blocks — in a fireplace after running out of firewood, she told CNN on Wednesday evening.

“A lot of people don’t know the severity of what’s going on. People are tearing down their fences to burn,” Garcia said, between tears.

“We started burning my daughter’s little wooden blocks because it was just too cold.”

She said she’s also been rationing prefilled oxygen cylinders for her 5-month-old preemie son, unable to use a machine that converts room air because the home has been without power since Monday.

About 390,000 Texas homes and businesses still were without power Thursday, down from around 4.5 million earlier in the week, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.us.

Gov. Greg Abbott said people are without power because of downed power lines or the need to manually reconnect buildings to electricity — not because of the inability of providers to generate power, as was the case for millions earlier this week.

“Texans deserve answers about why the shortfalls occurred, and how they’re going to be corrected and Texans will get those answers,” Abbott said.

Bad weather has helped knock out power to a further 560,000 customers in many other states, including Oregon, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, according to PowerOutage.us.

Texas officials say a deep freeze starting Sunday crippled utilities’ power generation, causing rolling blackouts or continuous outages. The issues affect a Texas-only grid that covers 90% of the state and is isolated from the rest of the country, so the grid cannot import power from elsewhere to make up for the shortage.

Days without power in freezing conditions have sent Texans scrambling for alternative heating, through generators, fireplaces, living in running cars, or sheltering in powered warming centers or businesses.

About 13 million people are facing water disruptions, with boil-water notices, broken pipes and failing systems, state officials said. Austin and San Antonio issued boil-water notices to their residents on Wednesday evening.

Difficult weather conditions across the country, meanwhile, have had serious implications for the coronavirus pandemic: Some shipments of Covid-19 vaccines have been delayed, and some clinics have had to cancel vaccine appointments.

Here’s what the National Weather Service says to expect from Thursday’s storms:

— Snow across the mid-Atlantic states, with the heaviest — about 6-12 inches — possible from the Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia to northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.

— Snow also should hit the Northeast in the afternoon and night, with 3-6 inches possible from downstate New York to southern New England.

— Dangerous ice accumulations — up to three-quarters of an inch — are possible from North Carolina’s northern Piedmont region to southern Virginia, threatening extensive power line and tree damage and treacherous roads.

— Up to a quarter inch of ice also could accumulate around the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia.

— Heavy rain is expected in parts of the Southeast, and tornadoes and flash floods are possible.

Texans struggle to find supplies

Even when Texans have been able to turn to heating alternatives, some have been struggling to find firewood, food, water and other needed supplies.

In San Antonio, Claudia Lemus said power returned to her home Wednesday night — but many stores’ shelves were empty.

How you can help Texas winter storm victims

We’re able to get enough to get by … but the grocery stores, most of them shut down,” Lemus told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Thursday morning. “And when we tried the few that are open, you have to stand in line for 20-30 minutes at a time, and then you just go in and get whatever is available, because stores are (largely) empty.”

Ehren Williamson of Pflugerville spent six to eight hours searching several grocery stores for food on Tuesday. Thursday, he traveled to a store and it was an hour wait just to get in. All the bottled water was gone.

Sylvia Cerda Salinas, a Texas mother, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday night she was considering driving to Mexico to keep her family safe in a hotel. With another freeze expected, she said she was running out of options for three of her children whose insulin supplies were spoiling.

“You either go to the shelter to get warm, or you stay home, stay cold, and stay away from the pandemic,” Salinas said.

Texas’ major grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said Thursday that although utilities have made progress in restoring power, more rolling outages may be needed in coming days to keep the grid stable.

Outages and slick roads in the South and East

In the Louisiana city of Shreveport, some water main lines burst this week during freezing rain and other wintry weather — forcing boil-water advisories and leaving some hospitals needing special water deliveries to keep their heating systems running.

A local oilfield services provider, CNC Oilfield Services, delivered water to five hospitals and nursing homes, company representative Colton Sanders said Thursday.

In Kentucky, winter storms this week have damaged utility infrastructure to the extent that some households might not see power restored until after Friday, state officials said.

Some roads will have to be treated or cleared of downed power lines or trees.

“State road crews and contractors have been focusing on high-priority routes, and in some areas they are tackling secondary routes as well,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam used Twitter to ask resident not to drive.

Travel conditions are very dangerous — please stay off the roads,” he wrote.

The weather has also knocked out water plants in many places in Texas, including Marlin, a town with a population of more than 5,500 residents.

Speaking of residents’ frustration, Marlin City Manager Cedric Davis said, “They are cussing us, calling us names, saying they don’t understand, they don’t understand. We cried last night. We are giving it our all. People are so inhumane. They don’t understand. I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Waco Tribune-Herald reported.

Dozens of weather-related deaths over a week

Dozens of deaths have been reported across the country in the past week, linked to cold conditions or weather-related wrecks.

Texas has lost 16 residents to weather-related incidents, with causes including exposure to cold, carbon monoxide poisoning and vehicle wrecks. The rest of the toll is spread across Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning rises when people turn to unusual sources of heat or power during electricity outages, such as running generators or vehicles in enclosed spaces. Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless gas that can build up when any type of fossil fuel is burned — gasoline, coal or natural gas.

In Houston, the Memorial Hermann Health System has seen more than 100 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since Monday afternoon, system representative Jade Waddy said Thursday.

In Oregon — where some areas may receive several more inches of snow Thursday — four adults died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to stay warm from Saturday to Monday, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said. One person appears to have ignited charcoal briquettes inside while three others were sheltering in recreational vehicles.

While Kentucky officials have responded to calls regarding carbon monoxide, state police reported Wednesday that a 25-year-old was found Friday dead as a result of hypothermia.

CNN

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