A winter storm and lengthy cold snap have crippled power facilities in Texas and caused about 2.3 million outages as of Wednesday evening, leaving residents in the cold and dark for several days.
The lack of power to about a quarter of the state has created a widespread emergency, with families huddling in homes or cars without heat, burst water pipes, failing water systems and gasoline shortages.
Barbara Martinez said she had been burning firewood to try to heat her suburban Houston home, which had been without power from early Sunday until Tuesday.
“We got power for four hours and then it went off again and it stayed off for a few hours, came back for like two hours then went away,” she said Wednesday morning. “It’s currently off.”
The outages cover the areas served by Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, from the counties bordering Mexico up to those touching Oklahoma, and from Houston in the east to rural Big Bend in the west. Yet areas outside of ERCOT’s coverage zone, including the eastern border with Louisiana, the northwest panhandle and El Paso in the west, are basically unaffected.
Texas officials pointed the blame at the power company and called for investigations. US Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat who represents parts of Fort Worth and Dallas, said he’s learned from an industry executive that the power grid was just minutes from failing on Monday before state agency officials initiated emergency rolling outages.
“I want people to know that we were minutes away from the entire grid crashing,” he told CNN’s Ed Lavandera, criticizing ERCOT and Republican leaders for not better preparing for the freeze.
“They certainly could have taken some precautions that would have prevented what we’re having to deal with now,” Veasey said.
An ERCOT spokesperson did not immediately return a CNN request for comment. But earlier Wednesday, CEO Bill Magness said the issue largely was a lack of energy supply as the cold weather shuttered power facilities. ERCOT’s controlled power outages, he said, had in fact averted the system’s collapse.
The power issues are likely to continue, especially given that the cold temperatures will last for another day or two. Over 21 million people, or nearly 70% of Texas’s population, are currently under some sort of winter weather alert.