09:10 GMT25 February 2021
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    Latest estimates indicate that more than 2.6 million residents living in Texas are without electricity after severe storms blasted the region with frigid temperatures, and a spiked demand for energy caused blackouts from overwhelmed utility plants.

    Texas utility company Austin Energy announced on Wednesday that its tens of thousands of customers may be forced to go without electricity for an extended period of time, as officials work to bring service back online.

    In a series of tweets, the company told customers that they “should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer,” as severe weather conditions may hinder efforts to bring the shuttered power grid fully back into service. 

    “Customers who have sustained outages should expect outages to continue until the situation improves,” reads one of the company’s tweets. “Be careful of downed tree limbs and downed power lines.”
    People take shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, U.S. February 17, 2021.

    Although Austin Energy noted individuals who currently have power should anticipate losing it as a result of the heavy storm, the company did recently announce it was able to restore power to 16 of its circuits. Rotating power outages will be undertaken by the company to ensure that power is distributed across the board.

    Estimates suggest that over 186,000 Austin Energy customers are still without power.

    Much of the Lone Star State is presently under freeze, storm and winter weather advisories, with some areas seeing snow accumulations reaching up to 4 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Across the state, many areas have maintained below-freezing temperatures. 

    The Weather Channel reported the situation has become so dire that carbon monoxide poisoning cases have shot up, as some residents look to alternative means to stay warm. In Harris County, first responders received at least 300 reports of carbon monoxide poisoning on Tuesday alone. Hypothermia cases have also been on the rise.

    © REUTERS / Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin Amer
    Brett Archibad, whose home was without electric power following winter weather, tries to entertain his family as they try to stay warm in their home the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S. February 16, 2021.
    During a community meeting, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo spoke to the recent uptick in poisonings and told residents that “in many ways, [the cases highlight] a disaster within a disaster.”

    Citing Houston Police, local outlet KTRK reported that a woman and an 8-year-old girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was purposely left running in an attached garage in order to generate heat.

    To make matters worse, reports surfaced Wednesday that Texans were also beginning to deal with water service issues in some parts of the state as a result of the power outages. In Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, a boil-water notice was implemented after blackouts affected water treatment centers. 

    A similar notice has been issued in Fort Worth, Texas, for roughly 212,000 individuals.

    According to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has found that some 8 million residents have had issues with their water service, as approximately 420 public water systems across 120 counties within the state have undergone setbacks. 

    Power outages have also been reported in Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia and Louisiana, but have largely paled in comparison to the situation in Texas due to the state’s decadesold effort to skirt federal oversight by operating its own power grid.

    With questions being raised over the state’s poor response compared to actions undertaken by other US states, experts have called for an in-depth investigation into how Texas can improve its status, including by efforts to increase its reserve margins. 


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