HOUSTON — After losing power and heat Monday, Jennifer Grigas and her husband had to decide whether to risk COVID-19 exposure by taking their sons, ages 8 months and 3 years, to stay with her nearby parents, who have a gas-powered generator.
"You're just so cold, that's kind of what's taking priority," said Grigas, 33, a stay-at-home mom whose husband works for the Houston Astros baseball team. "I don't want the kids to get sick. Who knows when the pediatricians are going to open again? And half the time you don't want to take them in because of COVID."
In Texas cities, hundreds have been hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning, many of them children, after trying to keep warm with poorly ventilated fireplaces, grills or cars in garages. A fire that killed three young children and their grandmother in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land this week probably spread from the fireplace they were using to keep warm, authorities said. Two men were also found dead in the cold in Houston — one on a highway overpass, another on a median near downtown.
At least 20 storm-related deaths were reported across the country, from Kentucky to Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Oregon. And a new storm was expected to hit many of the same areas still crippled by outages and shortages Wednesday.
"Power will not be restored fully, I would say, probably for another couple days," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a Wednesday briefing after his own home lost power.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas held a briefing with other emergency managers about the storm Wednesday after facing criticism as outages that the state's 30 million residents were initially told would be temporary, "rolling" blackouts still plagued large swaths of some of America's largest cities, including Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Abbott, who has called for an investigation into the state's primary power grid operator, said the White House had assisted with orders that will increase available power in Texas, although that won't help those who already have burst pipes and damaged homes.
"We do expect a lot of people in Texas to have disaster claims," Abbott said, noting that the National Guard had been deployed to assists with roads and warming centers.
More than 7 million people across Texas are being impacted by boil-water notices, and an additional 250,000 are in areas where they cannot access local water systems at all, according to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Executive Director Toby Baker.
He said three factors stressed water systems to near breaking points: a lack of power to facilities, frozen and broken pipes, and a surge in usage from people dripping their faucets to prevent pipes from breaking.
"It is an ongoing issue, and this number is probably going to grow over the next day or two," Baker said at the briefing with Abbott.