City workers and volunteers will hand out bottled water at Delmar Stadium in Houston, Texas, USA on Wednesday, February 19, 2021.
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President Joe Biden has endorsed a statement of major disaster for Texas as the state grapples with widespread power outages and water shortages in freezing winter conditions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday.
The move unlocks federal funding for individuals in Texas, grants for temporary home and home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property damage.
Millions of Texans are grappling with power outages and more than half of the state are suffering from disrupted water supplies as boiling water reports are in effect.
The statement also provides funding for cost-sharing with state and local governments, as well as some private not-for-profit organizations, for emergency preparedness and risk mitigation measures. Help is available in dozens of counties.
More than 15.1 million people faced water disruptions in Texas on Saturday after freezing conditions disrupted more than 1,300 public water systems and resulted in boiling water notifications, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said Saturday.
The federal government has already approved emergency statements for Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and shipped supplies such as generators, blankets, water, and meals to Texas last week.
“This is great news for the people of Dallas after a terrible week,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wrote in a tweet. “The damage caused by this storm is great and the declaration of the disaster will help our city to recover.”
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Biden plans to visit Texas as early as next week to assess the federal response. The president said he will make a final decision after making sure his presence does not hamper recovery efforts. The government has worked closely with Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott on disaster relief.
Biden’s Declaration is providing aid to 77 Texas counties. Other counties could be included after further assessing the damage, the White House said. Abbott had requested major disaster statements for all 254 counties.
“I thank President Biden for his assistance in responding to the effects of winter weather on our state,” Abbott said in a statement. “While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure that all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need.”
The Texas Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT) announced Friday that it has returned to normal conditions, restoring power for millions of customers. More than 60,000 people in Texas were still without power at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us.
A shopper walks past a bare shelf as people stock up on essentials at the HEB grocery store in Austin, Texas on February 18, 2021.
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Texas Division of Emergency Management’s chief Nim Kidd said at a news conference Saturday that the distribution of bottled water is still the number one priority.
The state has ordered 9.9 million water bottles and received a total of 5.5 million bottles. The military provides water and food by air while the state utilities work to restore water supplies.
Around 156,000 people still have no water at all, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “I understand the public is extremely frustrated right now,” said Baker.
In addition to the declaration of the major disaster, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency waiver for Texas on Friday. The immediate exemption enables the state to temporarily waive certain fuel standards in order to address the gas shortage in the affected areas.
Texas refineries had disrupted about a fifth of the country’s oil production during the outages and freezing temperatures. Oil prices fell from recent highs on Friday as companies were ready to resume production as soon as electricity services resumed.