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 nation’s second-largest state population — 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 in an Abilene health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.
About 260,000 homes and businesses in Tennessee County, including 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, Mississippi, 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 town 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 provided 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 medication to get him through Sunday because she hasn’t been able to 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 home — buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts.
More minor 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 of a state known as the U.S. energy capital. ERCOT officials defended their preparations and decided 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 piece of massive ice and snowstorm. 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.”