(CNN) — As Texas begins to restore power after a devastating week of freezing temperatures and winter storms, the state faces a new crisis: overflowing water systems that could spread misery to much of the population.
Leaks caused by frozen pipes have brought the water supply to the brink. About 13 million Texans, nearly half the state’s population, remained under a boil water warning on Thursday, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Executive Director Toby Baker. More than 700 water supply systems have been affected.
In Austin alone, the state capital’s water supply lost 325 million gallons due to broken pipes, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said during a news conference Thursday.
“We know that there are tens of thousands of leaks,” Meszaros said. “As the fire department indicated, they have responded to thousands upon thousands of burst pipes.”
At the peak from Tuesday night to Wednesday, the system lost 325 million gallons, it said.
“It is an incredible amount of water. Nothing I’ve ever seen before, ”he said.
While temperatures of about 15-20 degrees Celsius are expected to provide relief next week, some Texans face another round of record lows from Friday night through Saturday morning. More than 25 million people were under a strong freeze warning as of Friday morning in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Lack of water and heat in Texas
Conditions have placed Texans in extreme circumstances all week long. Many people have boiled snow in search of drinking water or have had to burn household items to heat it.
In Carrollton, north of Dallas, John Mays, Jon Milton Blackburn and their three children had no heat or water in their home as of early Monday. To fuel the fireplace, the family resorted to breaking baseboards to keep warm.
“Either that was it, or we were going to go after the dining room table next,” Mays told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday.
After a water pipe broke, the family sought refuge in their church and expressed gratitude for the local leadership that provided heating stations.
“If anything, this has been a wonderful learning lesson for us on how important community is and how important it is to stay together as a community,” Mays said.
Texas Water Shortage Alerts
Officials warned overnight that while power has largely been restored across the state, water supplies remain especially low.
Waco Mayor Dillon Meek asked residents, industrial and commercial users to conserve water due to a lack of available supply.
Meek said that all companies should reduce their water consumption by at least 50%. He also encouraged car washes and laundries to stay closed for the weekend. Restaurants were asked to use paper plates and other disposable items instead of washing dishes.
“Our water supply is critically low. We are currently pumping as much as we can, but the main problems we are facing now are leakage and high demand, ”Meek said in a video message Thursday. “We are pumping twice our normal daily use.”
If the situation worsens, some areas may not have water at all depending on the pressure and elevation of the water system, he warned.
“And if system conditions get even worse than that, the fire department might not have water to fight fires,” he said. “Our city staff have developed and continue to develop alternative methods for fire protection.”
A fire department near San Antonio was already at that point.
Bexar-Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jerry Bialick said Thursday that water supply was the main concern as firefighters battled a large fire at an apartment in San Antonio.
“Right now the firewall is working quite well. Our main concern is the water supply, ”said Bialick.
“Lack of preparation”
Many of the fire hydrants at the site were frozen and there was no water, Bialick said. Crews had to go down the street to fill their tubs with water.
That is our problem. Once we got a little bit in the fire, we ran out of water, “he said.
Bialick told CNN affiliate KABB that firefighters are expected to work through the night. No injuries have been reported.
Broken pipes coupled with the off-season freeze have damaged countless homes and businesses.
Dallas resident Thomas Black shared an image on social media that went viral: frozen water hanging from a ceiling fan. Black told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday that he and his girlfriend were “driving” and that he turned to boiling water after getting advice from strangers.
He said that many of his neighbors had to go to other houses that had electricity, however, he expressed concern about the meetings given the current covid-19 pandemic.
“Lack of preparation … our infrastructure is just not ready for something like this,” Black said when asked how the water got to the fan.
Black has also posted other photos of his apartment building of flooded hallways, water leaking from the ceilings of utility closets, and frozen water in interior entrances.
When asked why he decided to post the images on social media, Black said: ‘I think the blood of all Texans should be boiling, that this is even the reality we live in. […] we are in a bad situation and it is getting worse. “
The government’s response to storms
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday night that the state has asked the federal government for a major disaster declaration, which will “allow eligible Texans to apply for assistance to help repair broken pipes and related property damage,” according to a statement. press.
President Joe Biden spoke to Abbott about the winter storms on Thursday, and the White House said in a statement that the president “shared his intentions to direct additional federal agencies to investigate any immediate steps that can be taken to support Texans. ».
Abbott also intends to ask the legislature “to order the winterization of the Texas power system and the Legislature to guarantee the necessary funds for winterization,” according to the press release.
Abbott spoke early Thursday about the Texas Electric Reliability Council (Ercot), which manages the state’s power grid, and took on heat and power failures to Texans during storms.
“I take responsibility for the current state of the Ercot. Once again, I find what has happened unacceptable, “he said.
“We’ve already started the process to make sure events like this never happen again in Texas, and it begins with reforming the agency in charge of electrical reliability in Texas, which is not what happened this week,” Abbott said.
“Five days before the winter storm hit, the Ercot CEO said, and I quote: ‘We are prepared for the low temperatures to come.’
CNN contacted Ercot for comment on the governor’s latest remarks.
The Ercot said in a statement Thursday that it had made “significant progress” in restoring power overnight. However, the ongoing cold was affecting the system’s power generation and rotating outages may be needed for the next few days, the company said.
Ercot officials also said the power grid was “seconds or minutes” away from catastrophic failure and a complete blackout were it not for the controlled outages implemented early Monday.
Roughly 200,000 customers were still without power as of early Friday, according to Poweroutage.us, in areas stretching from central to eastern Texas. More than 3 million outages had been previously reported during storm peaks.
– CNN’s Rob Shackelford, Dave Alsup, Hollie Silverman, Raja Razek, Allison Flexner, Matt Hoye and Keith Allen contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism