Nation & World: Power outages linger for millions as another icy storm looms
photo by: Associated Press
AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) — Millions of Americans endured another frigid day without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm as utility crews raced to restore power before another blast of snow and ice sowed more chaos in places least equipped to deal with it.
Nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. were still without electricity, and some also lost water service. Texas officials ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.
The latest storm front was certain to complicate recovery efforts, especially in states that are unaccustomed to such weather — parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.
“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.
The system was forecast to move into the Northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.
This week’s extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of more than 30 people, some of whom perished while struggling to keep warm inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage. Another family died while using a fireplace to keep warm.
Weather-related outages have been particularly stubborn in Oregon, where some customers have been without power for almost a week.
The worst U.S. outages by far have been in Texas, where 3 million homes and businesses remained without power as of midday Wednesday. More than 200,000 additional customers were in the dark in four Appalachian states, and nearly that many in the Pacific Northwest, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.
The president of the Texas power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said he hoped many customers would see at least partial service restored by later Wednesday or Thursday.
Dashawn Walker, 33, was thrilled to find the power back on in his Dallas apartment. He stayed at a suburban hotel Tuesday night after being without power since Sunday, but said he was charged $474 for one night.
“It’s crazy,” Walker said. “I mean why would y’all go up on the hotels in the middle of a crisis?”
Water pressure has fallen across the state because lines have frozen, and many residents are leaving faucets dripping in hopes of preventing pipes from freezing, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to shut off water to their homes, if possible, to prevent more busted pipes and preserve pressure in municipal systems.
The outages in and around Portland, Oregon, affected nearly 150,000 customers nearly a week after a massive snow and ice storm toppled many trees and took out hundreds of miles of power lines.
The damage to the power system was the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric. At the peak of the storm, more than 350,000 customers in the Portland area were in the dark.
“These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,” said Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, who declined to predict when all customers would have power restored.
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on strained power grids. 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 weather also disrupted water systems in several Southern cities, including in New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana, where city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals, and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.
Power was cut to a New Orleans facility that pumps drinking water from the Mississippi River. A spokeswoman for the Sewerage and Water Board said on-site generators were used until electricity was restored.
In the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter said Wednesday that water reserves remained low and local hospitals were faced with the possibility they might have to transfer patients to other areas.
Travel remains ill-advised in much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights canceled. Many school systems delayed or canceled face-to-face classes. But staying home carried risks too in places without power.
Authorities said a fire that killed three young children and their grandmother in the Houston area likely was caused by the fireplace they were using to keep warm. In Oregon, authorities confirmed Tuesday that four people died in the Portland area of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The crisis also produced stories of kindness.
In Clinton, Miss., Army veteran Evelyn Fletcher has been cooking and delivering meals to sidelined truck drivers, travelers and people staying at hotels after losing power at home.
“They’re stranded, they’re isolated — people are in need of support right now,” Fletcher said.
On Monday, Fletcher made 85 meals. On Tuesday, she made 30 plates, while a local restaurant, T’Beaux’s Crawfish and Catering, cooked 75 plates of shrimp and gumbo that she and other volunteers delivered. And on Wednesday, Fletcher was cooking a pot of turkey noodle soup, hoping to deliver another 70 meals.
“People are worried about more snow,” she said. “We are going to keep people fed and keep them feeling hopeful.”
Biden backs study of reparations
Washington (ap) — President Joe Biden’s White House is giving its support to studying reparations for Black Americans, boosting Democratic lawmakers who are renewing efforts to create a commission on the issue amid the stark racial disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A House panel heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would create a commission to examine the history of slavery in the U.S. as well as the discriminatory government policies that affected former slaves and their descendants. The commission would recommend ways to educate the American public of its findings and suggest appropriate remedies, including financial payments from the government to compensate descendants of slaves for years of unpaid labor by their ancestors.
Biden backs the idea of studying the issue, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday, though she stopped short of saying he would sign the bill if it clears Congress.
Thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles being rescued in Texas
South Padre Island, Texas (ap) — Residents, some of whom lack heat or basic amenities in their own homes due to the unusually chilly weather, have been rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles and taking them to a convention center in a South Texas resort town.
“Every 15 minutes or less there’s another truck or SUV that pulls up,” Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
He says they’ve “collected” more than 3,500 sea turtles so far. He said he hesitates to use the word rescued because “we know we’re going to lose some.”
Rush Limbaugh dies at 70
Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host who ripped into liberals and laid waste to political correctness with a gleeful malice that made him one of the most powerful voices in politics, influencing the rightward push of American conservatism and the rise of Donald Trump, died Wednesday. He was 70.
Limbaugh said a year ago that he had lung cancer. His death was announced on his show by his wife, Kathryn.
Unflinchingly conservative, wildly partisan, bombastically self-promoting and larger than life, Limbaugh galvanized listeners for more than 30 years with his talent for sarcastic, insult-laced commentary.
UK queen’s husband admitted to hospital
London (ap) — Britain’s 99-year-old Prince Philip has been admitted to a London hospital after feeling unwell, Buckingham Palace said Wednesday.
The palace said the husband of Queen Elizabeth II was admitted to the private King Edward VII Hospital on Tuesday evening.
It called the admission “a precautionary measure” taken on the advice of Philip’s doctor. The palace said Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, is expected to remain for a few days of “observation and rest.”
His illness is not believed to be related to COVID-19. The queen and Philip received a first dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus in early January.
Thousands of service members saying no to vaccine
Washington (ap) — By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will persuade troops to get the shot.
Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, were choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.
Clashes erupt over Spain’s jailing of rapper
Madrid (ap) — Spanish police fired rubber bullets and baton-charged protesters as clashes erupted for a second night in a row Wednesday at demonstrations against the arrest of rap artist Pablo Hasél.
Many protesters threw objects at officers and used trash containers — setting many alight — and overturned motorbikes to block streets in both Madrid and Barcelona and other cities. Many shop windows were smashed in the demonstrations.
Hasél barricaded himself in a university building earlier this week to avoid his arrest in a case centering on free speech. After a 24-hour standoff, police took him away early Tuesday.
He was taken to prison to serve a 9-month sentence for insulting the monarchy and glorifying terrorism in a song about former King Juan Carlos I and in 64 tweets several years ago.
Minneapolis to beef up security for trial in Floyd’s death
Minneapolis (ap) — National Guard troops and hundreds of law enforcement officers will converge on the Minneapolis area during the upcoming trial of the former police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, and authorities said Wednesday they hope months of planning will help prevent a repeat of last year’s violent unrest.
Leaders from Minneapolis and local and state law enforcement agencies have been beefing up security plans, preparing to close streets and making sure businesses and residents are well informed as the trial of Derek Chauvin approaches. Mayor Jacob Frey said the trial will likely increase trauma for many, especially as the verdict draws near, and that safety will be a top priority “during this very difficult time in our city.”
Netanyahu and Biden speak about pandemic, Iran, peace effort
Tel Aviv, Israel (ap) — U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Wednesday after a month of silence that raised concerns in Israel about a frostier relationship between the two allies.
Netanyahu’s office was first to announce the conversation, releasing a photo of a smiling prime minister holding a phone to his ear. The statement said the conversation was “warm and friendly” and lasted about an hour.
“We had a good conversation,” Biden said during a brief exchange with reporters before the start of an Oval Office meeting with labor leaders.
Facebook blocks Australians from accessing news on platform
Canberra, Australia (ap) — Facebook announced Thursday it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism.
Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, the U.S.-based company said in a statement.
Australian users cannot share Australian or international news.
International users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news.