Nation & World: A new crisis in Southern cities hit by storms: No water
photo by: Associated Press
AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) — Southern cities slammed by winter storms that left millions without power for days have traded one crisis for another: Busted water pipes ruptured by record-low temperatures created shortages of clean drinking water, shut down the Memphis airport on Friday and left hospitals struggling to maintain sanitary conditions.
In Texas, 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — were under orders to boil tap water before drinking it because low water pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system. A man died at an Abilene health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.
About 260,000 homes and businesses in the Tennessee county that includes Memphis were told to boil water because of water main ruptures and pumping station problems. Restaurants that can’t do so or don’t have bottled water were ordered to close. And water pressure problems prompted Memphis International Airport to cancel all incoming and outgoing Friday flights.
In Jackson, Miss., most of the city of about 161,000 had no running water. Crews pumped water to refill city tanks but faced a shortage of chemicals for treatment because icy roads made it difficult for distributors to deliver them, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.
He said the city’s water mains are more than 100 years old and not built to handle the freezing weather that hit the city as multiple storms dumped record amounts of snow across the South.
“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” said Lumumba.
The city was providing water for flushing toilets and drinking, but residents had to pick it up, leaving the elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.
Lisa Thomas said her driveway on a hill in Jackson was a sheet of ice. Her husband, who is on a defibrillator and heart monitor, has only enough heart medicine to get him through Sunday because she couldn’t go to the pharmacy.
“People are in dire need here,” Thomas said.
Paul Lee Davis got to the front of the line at a water station set up by city officials only to have the water run out. He was still waiting for it to be replenished three and a half hours after arriving.
“We need water, the stores all are out. I don’t see what choice we have,” Davis said.
The water woes were the latest misery for people across the South who went without heat or electricity for days after the ice and snow storms earlier in the week, forcing rolling blackouts from Minnesota to Texas.
Texas electrical grid operators said electricity transmission had returned to normal for the first time since historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes — buckling the state’s power grid and causing the widespread blackouts.
Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the grid now can provide power throughout the entire system.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure for a state known as the U.S. energy capital. ERCOT officials have defended their preparations and the decision to begin forced outages Monday as the grid reached a breaking point.
The storms also left more than 330,000 from Virginia to Louisiana without power. About 60,000 in Oregon on Friday were still enduring a weeklong outage following a massive ice and snow storm. Oregon’s governor ordered the National Guard to go door-to-door in the hardest-hit areas to ensure residents have enough food and water.
The extreme weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 69 people, including many who perished struggling to get warm and a Tennessee farmer who tried to save two calves that apparently wandered onto a frozen pond.
Federal Emergency Management Agency acting administrator Bob Fenton said teams in Texas were distributing fuel, water, blankets and other supplies.
“What has me most worried is making sure that people stay warm,” Fenton said on “CBS This Morning.”
In many areas, water pressure dropped after lines froze and because people left faucets dripping to prevent pipes from icing, authorities said.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,300 Texas public water systems and 159 counties had reported weather-related operational disruptions affecting more than 14.9 million people, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Tiffany Young.
More than 1 million gallons of water was being trucked Friday to the Texas capital. But Austin’s water director, Greg Meszaros, implored residents to minimize the use of home faucets because “there’s still a lot of unknowns as we pressurize the system.”
Biden tells allies ‘America is back’
Washington (ap) — President Joe Biden used his first address before a global audience Friday to declare that “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back,” after four years of a Trump administration that flaunted its foreign policy through an “America First” lens.
Speaking to the annual Munich Security Conference virtually, Biden ticked through a daunting to-do list — salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, meeting economic and security challenges posed by China and Russia and repairing the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic — that he said would require close cooperation between the U.S. and its Western allies.
Without mentioning Donald Trump’s name once in his speech, Biden mixed talk of a reinvigorated democratic alliance with a rebuke of his predecessor’s approach, a message warmly received by Western allies.
‘I know the past few years have strained and tested the transatlantic relationship,” Biden said. “The United States is determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.”
The president also participated Friday in a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations.
“Welcome back, America,” said European Council President Charles Michel, effectively summing up the mood of the Munich conference.
Mars landing team ‘awestruck’ by photo of descending rover
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (ap) — The world got its first close-up look at a Mars landing on Friday, as NASA released a stunning picture of its newest rover being lowered onto the dusty red surface.
The photo was released less than 24 hours after the Perseverance rover successfully touched down near an ancient river delta, where it will search for signs of ancient life and set aside the most promising rock samples for return to Earth in a decade.
NASA equipped the spacecraft with a record 25 cameras and two microphones, many of which were turned on during Thursday’s descent.
The rover is shown in extraordinary detail just 6 1/2 feet off the ground, being lowered by cables attached to an overhead sky crane, the red dust kicked up by rocket engines. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., promises more photos in the next few days and possibly also an audio recording of the descent.
“This is something that we’ve never seen before,” flight system engineer Aaron Stehura noted at a news conference. “It was stunning, and the team was awestruck. There’s just a feeling of victory that we were able to capture these and share it with the world.”
The vehicle is healthy, according to officials, after landing on a flat, safe surface in Jezero Crater with just 1 degree of tilt and relatively small rocks nearby. For now, the systems still are being checked. It will be at least a week before the rover starts driving.
Hack fuels new U.S. action on cybersecurity
Washington (ap) — Jolted by a sweeping hack that may have revealed government and corporate secrets to Russia, U.S. officials are scrambling to reinforce the nation’s cyber defenses and recognizing that an agency created two years ago to protect America’s networks and infrastructure lacks the money, tools and authority to counter such sophisticated threats.
The breach, which hijacked widely used software from Texas-based SolarWinds Inc., has exposed the profound vulnerability of civilian government networks and the limitations of efforts to detect threats.
It’s also likely to unleash a wave of spending on technology modernization and cybersecurity.
“It’s really highlighted the investments we need to make in cybersecurity to have the visibility to block these attacks in the future,” Anne Neuberger, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for cyber and emergency technology, said Wednesday at a White House briefing.
The reaction reflects the severity of a hack that was disclosed only in December. The hackers, as yet unidentified but described by officials as “likely Russian,” had unfettered access to the data and email of at least nine U.S. government agencies and about 100 private companies, with the full extent of the compromise still unknown. And while this incident appeared to be aimed at stealing information, it heightened fears that future hackers could damage critical infrastructure, like electrical grids or water systems.
President Joe Biden plans to release an executive order soon that Neuberger said will include about eight measures intended to address security gaps exposed by the hack. The administration has also proposed expanding by 30% the budget of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, or CISA, a little-known entity now under intense scrutiny because of the SolarWinds breach.
Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths
Nairobi, Kenya (ap) — Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.
“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”
The 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts.
In a significant development on Friday, an African Union-created task force said Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, to be available in May. The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Kardashian files to divorce West
Los Angeles (ap) — “Kimye” is kaput.
Kim Kardashian West filed for divorce from Kanye West Friday after 6 1/2 years of marriage, court records show. The move brings an impending end to one of the most followed celebrity unions of the 21st century — the marriage of a reality TV superstar and a hip-hop and fashion phenomenon with four kids, a vast fortune to split and even more fame.
Kardashian is seeking joint custody of the children and her filing states the couple have a prenuptial agreement that will determine how their assets will be divided. It cites irreconcilable differences for their breakup and does not list a separation date.
The beginning of the end of the marriage comes after the September announcement that the show that made her family’s name, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” was coming to an end in 2021 after 14 years.
Toronto stretches lockdown to March
Toronto (ap) — A lockdown and stay-at-home order is being extended in Canada’s largest city until at least March 8.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, asked the provincial government this week to extend the lockdown, saying she has never been more worried about the future because of new coronavirus variants. Toronto Mayor John Tory supported the request and said he wants this to be the last lockdown.
The shutdown in Toronto began on Nov. 23 after a second novel coronavirus wave hit the province.
Scientists say the U.K. variant found in Ontario spreads more easily and is likely more deadly, but so far existing vaccines appear to be effective against it.
Canada has had a shortage of vaccines until this week. The federal government expects to get 6 million Pfizer and Moderna doses before the end of March and 23 million more in April, May and June and 55 million in the three months after that. Canada has a population of 37 million.
Schools just reopened in Toronto this week and retail stores had been scheduled to reopen Feb. 22.
Trump relocation of Space Command under review
Denver (ap) — The Department of Defense’s inspector general announced Friday that it was reviewing the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to relocate U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.
The decision on Jan. 13, one week before Trump left office, blindsided Colorado officials and raised questions of political retaliation. Trump had hinted at a Colorado Springs rally in 2020 that the command would stay at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
But the man with whom Trump held that rally, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, lost his reelection bid in November, and Colorado, unlike Alabama, voted decisively against Trump.
On Friday, the inspector general’s office announced it was investigating whether the relocation complied with Air Force and Pentagon policy and was based on proper evaluations of competing locations.