President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas on Saturday as the state struggles with the fallout from a winter storm that killed at least two dozen people and caused widespread blackouts and water shortages.
Millions of residents in the United States’ biggest oil and gas producer have had to contend with days of electricity outages, and nearly half of all Texans are still suffering from disruptions to their water service.
Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, said on Friday authorities were reporting 10 deaths due to hypothermia.
The action by the Biden administration makes federal funding available to affected individuals, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.
Biden is also weighing a trip to Texas to survey the federal response to the first new crisis to develop since he took office a month ago. The White House is working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially acknowledge Biden’s November election win.
Abbott thanked the president for approving the major disaster declaration, saying in a statement that it was “an important first step.” But, he added, individual assistance had only been approved for 77 counties, not all the state’s 254 counties as he had requested.
With all the state’s power plants back online, millions of Texans were finally able to turn on the lights and heat their homes again. However, outages persisted and more than 78,000 homes remained without electricity as of Saturday morning.
With the weather set to improve and temperatures expected to return to normal in the coming days, the main concern has shifted from power to water.
Meanwhile, Abbott said he was convening an emergency meeting with officials on Saturday to discuss the spike in energy bills received by many residents following the power outages.
Copyright 2021 Thomson/Reuters