Winter storm left millions without power, at least 20 dead

Ruben Hill
February 17, 2021

By late Tuesday afternoon, ERCOT officials said some power had been restored, but they warned that even those gains were fragile and more outages were possible.

The massive winter storm that immobilized the Southern Plains was heading to the eastern Great Lakes and New England, where heavy snow and freezing rain was expected Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

Anger over Texas' power grid failing in the face of a record winter freeze mounted Tuesday as millions of residents in the energy capital of the USA remained shivering with no assurances that their electricity and heat - out for 36 hours or longer in many homes - would return soon or stay on once it finally does.

"It is estimated that at least 50 homes were affected in the incident and several power lines were damaged, causing power outages", Brunswick County Emergency Services said in a statement. More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another 200,000 were without electricity following an ice storm in northwest OR, according to, which tracks utility outage reports.

Thirty-five warming shelters were opened to accommodate more than 1,000 people around the state, FEMA said during a briefing.

More than 500 people sought comfort at one shelter in Houston.

After losing power Monday, Natalie Harrell said she, her boyfriend and four kids sheltered at a Gallery Furniture store in Houston.

In all, between 2 and 3 million customers in Texas still had no power almost two full days after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts.

"What we're protecting against is worse", he said. "I think we are going to be more days without light, that is what it seems like".

Residents lost power to heat their homes just when heat became essential in a region unaccustomed to such precipitous drops in temperature.

Nebraska's blackouts came amid some of the coldest weather on record: In Omaha, the temperature bottomed out at 23 degrees below zero overnight (minus 30 degrees Celsius), the coldest in 25 years.

The announcement came Tuesday as the state's privately owned Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) told legislators that power grid operators now can't predict when outages might end.

The outages forced a Texas county to scramble to administer more than 8,000 doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine after a public health facility lost power early Monday and its backup generator also failed, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Looking for large groups of people in places where they wouldn't have to drive and with appropriate medical personnel on hand, county officials distributed the doses at three hospitals, Rice University and the county jail.

Texas officials said more than 400,000 additional doses due now will not arrive until at least Wednesday because of the storm.

"The sky lit up and there was a lot of pop-pop-popping" and thunder, she said. Houston police said on Twitter they suspected the cause of death in the fatality to be "extreme low temperatures". A MS man died after losing control of his vehicle, which overtuned on an icy road Monday night near Starkville, Oktibbeha County coroner Michael Hunt said Tuesday. Authorities said three young children and their grandmother, who were believed to be trying to keep warm, also died in a suburban Houston house fire early Tuesday.

A man in Louisiana died when he hit his head after slipping on ice, and a 10-year-old Tennessee boy died after he and his six-year-old sister fell through the ice into a pond Sunday. And at least one person died.

Several cities in the USA saw record lows as Arctic air remained over the central part of the country. In Minnesota, the Chisholm-Hibbing weather station registered -39C (-38F), while Sioux Falls, South Dakota temperatures dropped to -32C (-26F).

More than 760 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and at Dallas Love Field most of the almost 200 flights for Southwest Airlines, the airport's main carrier, were canceled on Sunday. His indignation struck a much different tone than just a day earlier, when he told Texans that ERCOT was prioritizing residential customers and that power was getting restored to hundreds of thousands of homes.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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