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Power Returns To Millions Of Texans, But Many Remain Without

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Millions of Texans have been without electricity for days. Finally, today, those outage numbers dropped significantly, though there are still hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power. Boil-water orders are affecting millions, too. Rose Garcia lives in Marfa, and she says this has been tough. Her dad uses an oxygen machine to breathe.

ROSE GARCIA: It's just been one hill after another. My daddy's real sick. And, you know, without any heat, it's just been real rough.

SHAPIRO: I'm joined now by Dominic Anthony Walsh of Texas Public Radio, who's been monitoring this situation from San Antonio. Good to have you here.

DOMINIC ANTHONY WALSH, BYLINE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: So more than 3 million homes and businesses in Texas got power overnight. That's good news. But as we said, many others are still in the cold and dark. Is there a forecast for when everyone's going to have their power back?

WALSH: Right, it's an important question and one that we still don't really have a clear answer to. You know, we're still in the midst of an extreme winter storm here in Texas, although it is a little bit less severe than it was on Sunday. Now, ERCOT, which operates the state's electric grid, says it expects power demand to surge again tonight and tomorrow morning as temperatures plunge. And those same icy conditions that will drive up demand could, once again, affect the power supply. Here's Bill Magness. He's the CEO of ERCOT.

BILL MAGNESS: If we do hit a bump and have some generation have to come back off, we may have to ask for outages. But if we do, we believe they'll be at the level where they could be rotating outages, not the larger numbers that we faced earlier this week.

WALSH: So power grid operators may have to order more outages tonight or tomorrow. And beyond these supply-and-demand-driven outages, there's also damaged equipment across Texas that is in the process of being repaired. Some utility companies say power may be fully restored by Monday, but it's really anyone's guess.

SHAPIRO: And then there's also the issue of these boil-water orders that millions of Texans are under. Why are so many people without clean water right now?

WALSH: Yeah, access to water has become an additional crisis on top of this larger catastrophe. Millions of Texans are under a boil-water notice because of water quality concerns, and, you know, that's if they can even get tap water. We've seen lots of frozen and burst pipes. And, you know, on the water utility side, frozen pumps, damaged infrastructure have affected water pressure and quality for whole regions of the state. And, you know, some cities had water treatment plants knocked offline by the power outages.

A lot of people have had to do - have had to boil snow to do basic things like flushing their toilets. So these issues vary from place to place, but just like the issue with the power, there's no definitive timeline on a resolution. Hopefully things improve as the temperatures rise tomorrow and over the weekend.

SHAPIRO: As this crisis stretches on, there's been some political fallout, too. Tell us about that.

WALSH: So ERCOT, which again operates the Texas grid, will be investigated by state and federal officials and potentially reformed. The Texas Legislature is expected to begin hearings about this crisis next week. And also, Senator Ted Cruz is getting a lot of heat after being photographed leaving the Houston airport with his family yesterday, headed to Cancun, Mexico. You know, he's been widely criticized for leaving during this crisis. Just today, his office released a statement saying that his daughters asked to go on a trip. And he flew them out last night, but after all the uproar, he's coming back to Texas today.

Now, we should point out, in December, Senator Cruz criticized the mayor of Austin when he made a trip to Cabo San Lucas in the midst of a COVID-19 surge at the same time he was telling people to stay home, so clearly not the best optics for Senator Cruz here.

SHAPIRO: That is Texas Public Radio's Dominic Anthony Walsh in San Antonio. Dominic, thank you. And stay warm.

WALSH: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.