3 million Texans boil water amid ‘plumbing catastrophe,’ food shortages after devastating storm

SAN ANTONIO – The number of Texans boiling their water to make it safe to drink dropped from 8 million the day before to 3 million on Wednesday when plumbing and engineering trains worked around the clock on the myriad homes and businesses repair that were damaged by a cruelty winter storm.

Many Texans have also faced food shortages as grocery stores tried to hold onto stocks, large crowds fell on pantries, and the pandemic continued to threaten a state where nearly 43,000 people have died from Covid-19 and 2.6, according to the latest data from NBC News Millions of people have been infected.

Around 13,000 people were without running water on Wednesday after the public water systems they rely on were “no longer functional” due to the unusually cold winter explosion, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported.

Members of the Texas National Guard help load cars at the San Antonio Food Bank afternoon distribution Tuesday.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

And in some places where the water was recently restored, what came out of the tap left a lot to be desired.

“The water itself really comes out completely yellow,” said San Antonio mother Evelyn Esquivel on Tuesday.

But at least Esquivel had water. According to official figures, the restoration of water supplies in rural areas is much slower.

“It’s safe to say that we’ve literally never seen anything like it,” said Toby Baker, executive director of the environmental quality commission, to NBC subsidiary KXAN in Austin, on Tuesday. “So our regional offices are systematically trying to reach these smaller rural water systems and proactively reaching out to say, ‘Hey, what do you need?'”

Still, the commission reported that significant progress had been made since Saturday, when 1,445 public water systems reported malfunctions due to the cold, affecting 14.4 million Texans in 190 counties.

While much of Texas restored electricity after the state’s electricity grid collapsed in the face of historically low temperatures, many people were also hit by massive utility bills because scarce electricity means higher prices in the state’s market-based system.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican and free market advocate, has already promised to protect consumers from “unreasonable bills”.

“Texans who have suffered freezing cold without electricity for days shouldn’t face skyrocketing energy bills due to a surge in the energy market,” Abbott said on Sunday.

Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Democrat from Dallas, said Tuesday that “this situation is far from over”.

“We have had millions of Texans already suffering from a rather deep recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Anchía said. People who barely held on are completely wiped out. “

Volunteers are handing out groceries and water at a grocery pass-through at the San Antonio Food Bank Friday.Eric Gay / AP

But after a week of tormenting Texas, Mother Nature was helping. In Houston it was 79 degrees and cloudy on Wednesday, a far cry from the sub-zero temperatures that some parts of Texas had a few days ago.

The forecast for Friday when President Joe Biden was due to visit Houston, the largest city in Texas to review recovery efforts, was a more typical winter high of 74 degrees in cloudy conditions, according to The Weather Channel.

Still, much remained to be done to get Texas back to normal.

“Nearly half of the population in one of the largest states in the United States is experiencing a plumbing disaster due to burst pipes from freezing temperatures and significant power outages,” said George Greene IV of Water Mission, a South Carolina-based Christian engineering organization typically working on development projects in developing countries of clean water and sanitation and responds to disasters that require safe access to safe water.

“If you don’t have water in your house, you can’t flush toilets, shower, or do laundry,” Greene said.

Water Mission is putting together a schedule of repairs that will take weeks if not months to complete and has asked a partner organization, Plumbers Without Borders, to call 1,600 licensed volunteers to help with the massive repair, group spokesman Gregg said Dinino.

Michael Ybarra had tried to get groceries during the storm, but his car broke down. He ingested water that was distributed by the San Antonio Food Bank.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

San Antonio was busy at the city’s main food bank, where members of the Texas National Guard and Mormon church volunteers were helping distribute supplies and a number of cars were about two miles from the parking lot when an NBC news reporter came through Tuesday .

Louie Guzman, development manager at the Food Bank, said they see around 150 people most days. Since the storm, the numbers have risen to around 400 a day.

“We’re seeing greater turnout on days we weren’t expecting,” Guzman said. “In the afternoon they usually expect 150 to 200 here, but we saw double that because of the storm.”

One of those waiting was Esquivel, 38, who said that in addition to her husband and three children, her parents and two brothers also live in her house. And although medical experts have warned about having too many people around the house during a pandemic, Esquivel said they had no choice.

“To be honest, I didn’t think about Covid, that was my last thing,” she said. “I was just trying to survive and keep warm because it was cold. It was cold.”

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Esquivel said her power was back on, but the water coming from the faucet is sickly yellow and she has been boiling it. She said she came to the grocery bank because her husband was struggling to find a construction job and because most of her local grocery store had been picked clean.

“There was no water at all, no milk, just pasta and stuff,” she said.

Having had little experience with blizzards, Esquivel said it hadn’t crossed her mind to stock up on staples beforehand.

“We survived,” she said. “We can say we are blessed and survived.”

Michael Ybarra stocked up before the storm, but after the power outage there was only enough room in the insulated chest he’d stowed outside in the snow for the meat he’d bought. This is how milk and eggs spoiled.

“This situation is pretty bad,” said Ybarra, 40. “We lost a lot of food and stuff.”

Gamboa reported from San Antonio and Siemaszko from Montclair, NJ

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