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Texas weather: Joe Biden declares major disaster as deadly freeze sparks water crisis

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US President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas as the state continues to struggle with extreme winter weather.

The unusual winter storm crippled the state’s power grid and, despite Texas being rich in oil and gas, millions of residents were without power for days.

Supply has resumed but it remains intermittent, with more than 78,000 homes still without power on Saturday morning local time.

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Customers waited over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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Texas is not accustomed to such cold temperatures and was unprepared. Pic: AP

Dozens of people have died, including from hypothermia, car accidents on icy roads, and carbon monoxide poisoning, while one man died in a hospital after low water pressure made his treatment impossible.

There have been major disruptions to water supply, with more than 1,200 public water systems having problems.

Seven million people were warned to boil water before drinking it and bottled water was being delivered in a number of cities.

Gary Rasp, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said 14.3 million people in 190 counties were affected as of Saturday morning.

Even with temperatures starting to return to normal, the misery is not over for Texans still coming to terms with the freakish conditions, with many homes and businesses damaged by flooding after pipes burst.

Mr Biden‘s declaration will mean that federal funding is available, including assistance for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans.

In this Feb. 15, 2021, file photo, traffic is sparse on the snow-covered Interstate 45 near The Woodlands Parkway following an overnight snowfall in The Woodlands, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)
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The snow has started to melt but this is how the Interstate 45 looked last week. Pic: AP/Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle

Mr Biden is also considering a trip to the state, although he has said he does not want his visit to distract from the recovery effort.

Local food banks and other organisations helping people through the crisis have also had their funds bolstered by a charity drive launched by Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The representative from New York has raised more than $3m (£2.1m) and travelled to Houston on Saturday to help distribute supplies.

It comes after the state’s own Republican senator, Ted Cruz, drew heavy criticism for flying to Mexico with his family while the people he represents grappled with power outages and water supply issues.

“Look, it was obviously a mistake, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” he later said.

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Freezing ‘once in a generation’ conditions in Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was among the Republicans who initially refused to recognise Mr Biden’s election victory in November, said the president’s declaration was “an important first step”.

But he also said individual assistance had only been approved for 77 counties, not all 254.

Mr Abbott said he was also planning a meeting with officials to discuss the spike in energy bills seen by many residents after the power cuts.

Sid Snow, 72, stays overnight at the Salvation Army facility after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Plano, Texas, U.S. February 18, 2021
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Many Texans were forced into ‘warming shelters’ after their homes lost power

It comes amid growing anger at the state’s electricity suppliers, especially the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative overseeing 90% of the state’s power.

A lawsuit was filed against ERCOT on Friday alleging it had failed to heed warnings and to fix problems in the power infrastructure.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has also accused suppliers of having “grossly mishandled” the crisis.

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