Nation & World: Millions endure record cold without power
photo by: Associated Press
OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. (AP) — A winter storm that left millions without power in record-breaking cold weather claimed more lives Tuesday, including three people found dead after a tornado hit a seaside town in North Carolina and four family members who perished in a Houston-area house fire while using a fireplace to stay warm.
The storm that overwhelmed power grids and immobilized the Southern Plains carried heavy snow and freezing rain into New England and the Deep South and left behind painfully low temperatures. Wind-chill warnings extended from Canada into Mexico.
In all, at least 20 deaths were reported. Other causes included car crashes and carbon monoxide poisoning. The weather also threatened to affect the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort. President Joe Biden’s administration said delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries were likely.
North Carolina’s Brunswick County had little notice of the dangerous weather, and a tornado warning was not issued until the storm was already on the ground.
The National Weather Service was “very surprised how rapidly this storm intensified … and at the time of night when most people are at home and in bed, it creates a very dangerous situation,” Emergency Services Director Ed Conrow said.
In Chicago, a foot and a half of new snow forced public schools to cancel in-person classes for Tuesday. Hours earlier, along the normally balmy Gulf of Mexico, cross-country skiier Sam Fagg hit fresh powder on the beach in Galveston, Texas.
The worst U.S. power outages were in Texas, affecting more than 2 million homes and businesses. More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another 200,000 were without electricity following an ice storm in northwest Oregon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports. Four million people lost power in Mexico.
Texas officials requested 60 generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and planned to prioritize hospitals and nursing homes. The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.
More than 500 people sought comfort at one Houston shelter. Mayor Sylvester Turner said other warming centers were closed because they lost power.
After losing power Monday, Natalie Harrell said she, her boyfriend and four kids sheltered at a Gallery Furniture store in Houston. The warming center at the store provided people with food, water and power to charge essential electronics.
“It’s worse than a hurricane,” Harrell said. “I think we are going to be more days without light, that is what it seems like.”
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity.
Blackouts lasting more than an hour began around dawn Tuesday for Oklahoma City and more than a dozen other communities, stopping electric-powered space heaters, furnaces and lights just as temperatures hovered around minus 8 degrees.
Oklahoma Gas & Electric rescinded plans for more blackouts but urged users to set thermostats at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, avoid using major electric appliances and turn off lights or appliances not in use.
However, Entergy began rolling blackouts Tuesday night in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas at the direction of its grid manager, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, “as a last resort and in order to prevent more extensive, prolonged power outages that could severely affect the reliability of the power grid,” according to a statement from the New Orleans-based utility.
“Due to extremely cold temperatures over the last several days, the demand for electricity has reached an all-time high,” the Entergy statement said. “Additionally, these weather conditions have forced off generation resources across the system. The implementation of this load shed across the Entergy region will help ensure an adequate reserve margin, which helps ensure Entergy is better positioned to manage through additional extreme weather this week.”
Entergy has almost 3 million electric power customers in the four states.
Nebraska’s blackouts came amid some of the coldest weather on record: In Omaha, the temperature bottomed out at 23 degrees below zero overnight, the coldest in 25 years.
The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, said the blackouts were “a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”
The outages forced a Texas county to scramble to administer more than 8,000 doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine after a public health facility lost power early Monday and its backup generator also failed, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesperson for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
County officials distributed the doses that could have spoiled at three hospitals, Rice University and the county jail because there were large groups of people available who would not have to drive and appropriate medical personnel present.
“It feels amazing. I’m very grateful,” said Harry Golen, a college sophomore who waited for nearly four hours with his friends, much of it in the cold, and was among the last people to get the shots, which otherwise would not have reached students until March or April.
Texas officials said more than 400,000 doses will not arrive until at least today because of the storm.
The tornado that hit North Carolina’s Brunswick County was an EF3 with winds estimated at 160 mph, the weather service said on Twitter.
Three people died and 10 were injured when the tornado tore through a golf course community and another rural area just before midnight Monday, destroying dozens of homes.
Japan begins vaccination drive amid supply worry
Tokyo (ap) — Japan’s first coronavirus shots were given to health workers Wednesday, beginning a vaccination campaign considered crucial to holding the already-delayed Tokyo Olympics.
The progress the campaign might make is uncertain, however, in a country concerned about possible shortages of imported vaccines and where people are often reluctant to take vaccines due to worries of side effects.
The massive drive comes after the government gave its belated first approval Sunday for shots developed and supplied by Pfizer, which have been used in many other countries since December.
Japan fell behind after it asked Pfizer to conduct clinical tests with Japanese people in addition to the company’s earlier tests in six other nations. But officials say it was necessary to address the concerns of many Japanese about safety in a country known for low vaccine confidence.
Cost of a single Bitcoin exceeds $50,000 for the first time
Silver Spring, Md. (ap) — The seemingly unstoppable rise of Bitcoin continued Tuesday with the cost of a single unit of the digital currency rising above $50,000 for the first time.
The price of Bitcoin has risen almost 200% in the last three months, and its volatility was on display Tuesday. After rising above $50,600, it fell back to $48,674 at 2:15 p.m. ET. At that price, with about 18.6 million Bitcoins in circulation, Bitcoin has a market value of nearly $907 billion.
Myanmar police file new charge against ex-leader
Yangon, Myanmar (ap) — Police in Myanmar filed a new charge against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said Tuesday, as the military authorities who seized power in a coup intensified their crackdown against their opponents.
Suu Kyi, who was detained in the Feb. 1 military takeover, already faced a charge of illegally possessing walkie-talkies — an apparent attempt to provide a legal veneer for her house arrest. The new charge accuses her of breaking a law that has been used to prosecute people who have violated coronavirus restrictions, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in a court in the capital, Naypyitaw.
U.K. performers decry post-Brexit visa situation
London (ap) — Leading British actors including Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters warned the government on Tuesday that the U.K. culture sector faces irreparable damage unless artists can tour the European Union without visas.
Since Britain made its final split from the EU at the end of 2020, U.K. citizens can no longer live and work anywhere in the bloc. British artists now have to comply with differing rules in the 27 EU nations, negotiating visas for performers and permits for equipment. Many say the red tape will make it impossible for U.K. artists to perform on the continent, endangering the country’s status as a cultural powerhouse.