AUSTIN, Texas — Warmer temperatures spread across the southern United States on Saturday, bringing some relief to a winter weary region that faces a challenging clean-up and expensive repairs from days of extreme cold and widespread power outages.
In hard-hit Texas, where millions were warned to boil tap water before drinking it, the warm-up was expected to last for several days. The thaw produced burst pipes throughout the region, adding to the list of woes from severe conditions that were blamed for more than 70 deaths.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met Saturday with legislators to discuss energy prices, Nim Kidd, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, told reporters during a briefing. (You can watch it in the video player at the top of this article.) Some Texans could be facing massive spikes in electric bills after wholesale energy prices skyrocketed.
Water woes added misery for people who went without heat or electricity for days after the ice and snow storms forced rolling blackouts across Texas.
As of Saturday, 1,445 public water systems in Texas had reported disrupted operations, Toby Baker of the state Division of Environmental Quality said during the emergency management briefing.
That’s up from 1,300 reporting issues Friday afternoon, but Baker said the number of affected customers had dropped by about 600,000 to 14.3 million.
“It seems like last night we may have seen some stabilization in the water systems across the state,” Baker said.
“I understand the public is extremely frustrated right now, and I understand your frustration. My family, my dog, my eight chickens are on day four without water at my house,” Baker said. “We are Texans, too, and suffering through the same things that you are.”
As temperatures rise and road conditions improve across Texas, state officials indicated during Saturday's briefing that they were shifting their focus to ensuring people have enough food and water.
The state has ordered nearly 10 million bottles of water and more than five million ready-to-eat meals they will continue to deliver, with the aid of the Texas National Guard and other partners, state officials said during the briefing.
There are still 331 warming centers open, which will remain available “until people can safety get back in their home,” said Kidd.
Texas electrical grid operators said electricity transmission returned to normal after the historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand that buckled the state’s system.
Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the grid now can provide power throughout the system.
Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure for a state known as the U.S. energy capital. ERCOT officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin forced outages Monday as the grid reached breaking point.
The rolling blackouts resulted in a lawsuit filed Friday in a Nueces County court at law in Corpus Christi, claiming ERCOT ignored repeated warnings of weaknesses in the state’s power infrastructure.
A Dallas law firm alleged ERCOT and the American Electric Power utility caused property damage and business interruptions during the cold wave.
Also, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued civil investigative demands to ERCOT and electric utility companies. His investigation will address power outages, emergency plans, energy pricing and more related to the winter storm.