Desperate Texans have been thrown into survival mode as the state is now running out of food and water with seven million people under boil water orders – despite many still having no power – and hungry residents forced to line up for four hours to get their hands on a hot meal.
Thursday marked the fifth day in a row that thousands of homes have been left without power in the midst of record-smashing, freezing temperatures that rolled in with Winter Storm Uri at the weekend.
More than 488,000 still have no power, down from around 3 million Wednesday, after Governor Gregg Abbott ordered the state’s natural gas producers to sell fuel to in-state power generators and demanded answers from the state’s electricity supplier over the catastrophic failure that has contributed to the at least 10 storm-related deaths in Texas.
The lack of power and extreme weather has kickstarted a growing crisis in the food supply chain with power outages at grocery stores spoiling fresh produce, shelves depleted as panicked shoppers stockpile goods and no sign of deliveries arriving along the icy roads to replenish stocks.
People wait in near freezing temperatures to fill water bottles and coolers with water from a public park spigot in Houston
Hungry residents were forced to line up for four hours to get their hands on a hot meal at Burger King in Houston
Leovardo Perez (right) fills a water jug using a hose from a public park water spigot Thursday in Houston
Father John Szatkowski of St. Paul The Apostle Church sweeps water from a broken water line out of his church in Richardson
Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket in Austin as the storm has wreaked havoc on the state’s food supply chain
Vehicles drive down East 7th Street as power outages continue to darken most of East Austin Wednesday night
In Houston, hungry residents running out of supplies and having to toss spoiled food after days of no power in their homes lined up for four hours at a local Burger King to get a hot meal for the first time that day – before that too ran out of food.
Drinking water supply is even more concerning with seven million Texans across Arlington, Austin, Houston and San Antonio issued with boil water orders, around 263,000 people have been impacted by non-functioning water providers, and thousands dealing with burst water pipes.
Among those urged to boil water are thousands without the power to do so in Harris County, leaving them with a desperate choice between going without water or facing possible illness.
Meanwhile, in scenes reminiscent of a third world country, Houston residents resorted to filling up buckets of water from a spigot in a local neighborhood.
In Galveston, Mayor Craig Brown said burst pipes had depleted the areas water supply leaving hospitals with a ‘dangerously low’ supply Wednesday as he described the devastation the storm is wreaking as ‘worse than a hurricane.’
Meanwhile, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz has sparked outrage as he was pictured fleeing with his family to Mexico while his constituents reach breaking point in the state crisis.
A water bucket is filled as others wait in near freezing temperatures to use a hose from public park spigot in Houston where residents are under a boil water order
People form a line towards the cashier at a supermarket in Austin, Texas, as shelves lie empty and there are no signs of deliveries to restock them
People pictured in a Fiesta supermarket in Houston on Tuesday stocking up amid the crisis that has devastated the state
A broken water line caused flooding in the St. Paul The Apostle Church in Richardson while drinking water is in short supply
Multiple health agencies across the state issued warnings urging Texans to boil tap water to ensure it is safe to drinking.
About 590 public water systems across 141 counties had warned of disruption to the supply of water impacting around 12 million residents already reeling from the storm.
In Harris County, which covers Houston, its 4.7 million residents were under a boil water order.
However Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told MSNBC that most residents under the notice ‘don’t have power to boil the water.’
Instead, many lined up in the icy weather with huge containers and buckets to fill up water from a spigot in local neighborhoods.
Meanwhile in the capital of Austin a power failure at the city’s largest water-treatment facility also plunged the 950,000 residents under a no boil order.
The situation is so dire in Kyle, the city of 48,000 people just south of Austin, that residents were told to suspend all water use unless essential to sustaining life.
‘Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,’ officials said Wednesday. ‘We are close to running out of water supply in Kyle.’
Some residents across the state are returning to their homes to find the power is back on but their water pipes have burst in their absence, flooding their houses and collapsing their ceilings.
The water crisis is also threatening to overwhelm some of the state’s hospitals.
St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in Austin was forced to hand out bottles of water to patients and staff Wednesday night and the heating system was on the brink as water pressure fell so low.
In San Antonio, a 50-year-old man was turned away from his regular scheduled dialysis treatment Thursday because of water supply issues at his clinic, reported the New York Times.
Galveston Mayor Brown told Good Morning America Thursday the ‘human suffering’ caused by the storm and the subsequent food and water crises is ‘very concerning.’
‘The human suffering that is occurring through this is very very concerning,’ he said.
Texas is also running out of food, with a long line of about 50 cars seen snaking around a Burger King in Houston Monday as people were desperate to get a hot meal
But even the fast food joint ran out of food and was forced to turn desperate residents away at around 10 pm
One customer told ABC13 they hadn’t ‘ate a meal all day so we’re trying to get a hot meal and eat it at home’
Ted Cruz sparks outrage as he flees Texas amid crisis for a holiday in Mexico – before turning back amid backlash
Ted Cruz will return to Texas today, less than 24 hours after fleeing the state in the middle of the crisis for a family vacation in Mexico, after being eviscerated for making the trip instead of staying to help.
The Republican Senator sparked outrage after he was pictured flying to Cancun Wednesday while his constituents are left without water, food and power.
Cruz requested a police escort through Houston Airport on Wednesday before his flight to Cancun at around 4pm. He was also on the standby list for an upgrade to business class but didn’t get it.
Temperatures in Texas this week dropped as low as -2 F – the lowest they have been since 1903 – and snow and ice is blanketing the state. By contrast, it is 85 F and sunny all week in Cancun.
Criticism exploded Thursday morning with furious Texans demanding to know why he hadn’t stayed.
He then seemed to change his plans and headed back on an afternoon flight out of Cancun Thursday.
Cruz said earlier this week that his home hadn’t lost power, and that he and his wife had welcomed in their children’s friends who weren’t as lucky.
Brown said the water supply needs to be turned off to all homes as pipes are bursting and this is ‘draining the system.’
‘We had burst water pipes all through the island here – it depleted our complete water source,’ he said.
Brown said water should be restored Thursday but a lot of residents were still without power after 90 percent of the area’s population was cut off for two straight days.
The water shortage threatened the local hospital Wednesday leaving its supply ‘dangerously low’ Wednesday.
The hospital is now back up and running with tanks filled but the nightmare over the food and water supply is far from over for residents.
Galveston is used to dealing with hurricanes but Brown said the crisis triggered by the storm is ‘worse.’
‘This is worse than a hurricane. In a hurricane you can go to the mainland and get away from this,’ he said.
‘In this particular situation, no matter where you go in Texas you still have a concern that is similar to what we have here.’
The entire state is buckling under ‘some sort of paralysis’, he added.
Texas is also running out of food with fresh produce spoiled by power outages in homes and stores, the supply chain thrown into turmoil and deliveries delayed due to treacherous conditions on the roads.
Access to food could be in dire straits for several weeks to come as the supply chain has been disrupted all along the chain from farm to production plant to store.
Supermarkets were forced to close when they lost power and an unfathomable quantity of fresh food was ruined.
Stores that managed to keep their lights on now sit almost empty of food, with no sign of when shipments will arrive.
The state’s agricultural industry has been hammered with farmers branding the situation the ‘Valentine’s Day produce massacre’ as fruit and vegetable crops in the Rio Grande Valley froze over, reported The Produce News.
Celia Cole, CEO of hunger-relief organization Feeding Texas, told the Texas Tribune eight food banks have asked the state for assistance in feeding communities.
A car completely encased in ice as this week’s winter storms continued to slam the Lone Star State
Meanwhile, school districts have been forced to stop sending meals to children across parts of the state due to a lack of supply.
The dairy industry has been especially hard hit with farmers forced to toss a staggering $8 million worth of milk each day because they can’t get it to dairies, said Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.
If farmer can’t get their livelihoods back up and running soon it could have long-term implications on the sector, warned Miller and Cole.
‘They’ve been very, very badly hit – the agricultural sector, generally —by the pandemic, so they’re already struggling,’ they told the Tribune.
‘And so I think although the impact if the power gets restored quickly might not be huge in absolute terms, it’s hitting a sector that’s already reeling from the pandemic.’
Desperate residents running out of ambient supplies and in desperate need of a hot meal amid the freezing temperatures are resorting to lining up for hours on end at fast-food joints.
A long line of about 50 cars seen snaking around a Burger King in Houston Monday.
But even the fast food joint ran out of food and was forced to turn desperate residents away at around 10 pm.
One customer told ABC13 they hadn’t ‘ate a meal all day so we’re trying to get a hot meal and eat it at home.’
It was a similar story at a Chick-fil-A store near the Otis Hotel in Austin where hungry residents lined up to as their homes continue to be out of power and water.
Others walked and lined up in the freezing temperatures to try to get food at grocery stores with no gas available to run their cars after many huddled in them for warmth during blackouts.
Local businessman Jim McIngvale – known as Mattress Mack – said he was trying to get food from wherever he can to feed hungry residents as around 500 Texans sheltered in his store last night.
McIngvale, who opened his doors back in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey struck the city, first said residents were ’emotionally distraught’
‘People were freezing in their homes. They had no heating and electricity and compounding the problem they had no water,’ he said.
‘Their lives have been totally disrupted by this terrible power outage and water shortage. So it’s a terrible situation.’
Around a thousand people went to his store for shelter on both Tuesday and Wednesday, with 300 staying the night.
McIngvale said the store is a ‘cavernous store’ of 100,000 square feet so people are able to maintain social distancing amid the pandemic.
Governor Abbott warned that most of the state will remain below freezing for the rest of the week only emerging from the icy freeze on Saturday.
This comes as the second major winter storm barreled into the state Wednesday just hours after Uri departed Tuesday.
Texas – along with other hard-hit southern states – was put under a hard freeze warning Thursday, impacting 22 million people.
While Texans bear the brunt of the state’s dismal energy failure, questions continue to mount over why the state and its energy grid wasn’t prepared for the storm, especially after a similar storm in 2011 caused the same problems.
The state is the only one in continental US that has its own power grid rather than being federally regulated.
ERCOT – which is in charge of managing the distribution of all of the energy in Texas and maintaining its grid – underestimated the storm and didn’t produce enough reserve energy before the storm hit.
The agency claims it predicted that peak energy demand would be 67 gigawatts but it reached 69 gigawatts on Sunday night – the first night of the storm.
The agency then cut the power across the state by close to half – reducing it to just over 40 gigawatts. Each gigawatt powers some 500 homes.
In Galveston, Mayor Craig Brown said burst pipes had depleted the areas water supply as he described the devastation the storm is wreaking as ‘worse than a hurricane’
In Houston, local businessman – known as Mattress Mack – said around 500 Texans sheltered in his store last night and they are trying to get food from wherever they can to feed hungry residents
What compounded the sudden demand for energy was that ERCOT didn’t anticipate not being able to produce more energy during the storm.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday told the state’s natural gas producers to sell the fuel to in-state power generators.
He called ERCOT ‘opaque’ and ‘not transparent’ after failing to say when Texans can expect their power back.
The Texas Tribune reports that not all of the generators in the state were upgraded after 2011 to tackle the issue.
Jeff Dennis, managing director of Advanced Energy Economy, said: ‘Where did those recommendations go, and how were they implemented? Those are going to be some pretty key questions.’
The upgrades are what’s called ‘winterizing’ the energy system but experts say it is regularly put off because the changes are expensive.
Texas’ deregulated energy market gives little financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare bout of intensely cold weather, an issue critics have been pointing out for years.
An ERCOT official, Dan Woodfin, said plant upgrades after 2011 limited shutdowns during a similar cold snap in 2018, but this week’s weather was ‘more extreme.’
Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable ‘That’s nonsense,’ he said. ‘Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.’
Restarting the frozen oil wells in Texas also isn’t going to be easy – even after power is restored – experts say, as output has plummeted by 65 per cent.
People line up outside a grocery store in Austin Tuesday as they started running out of food
Carlos de Jesus takes a selfie in front of the frozen fountain at the Richardson Civic Center after a second winter storm brought more snow and continued freezing temperatures to North Texas on Wednesday
After seeing a posting on Facebook, LaDonna (no last name given) drove from Johnson County, Texas to collect some of the dumpsters-full of ice cream thrown out at a Southwest Arlington, Texas, Kroger store, Wednesday
Texans covered in blankets wait in line for more than an hour to fill propane tanks to heat their homes in Houston on Wednesday
Portland cops guard Fred Meyer DUMPSTERS as scavengers rummage through mountains of food thrown out after freezers fail: 100,000 Oregonians still have no power after Storm Uri wreaks worst havoc in 40 years
More than a dozen Portland police officers were drafted in to guard dumpsters outside a Fred Meyer from hungry residents seeking food that had been thrown out when the store freezers failed in the winter storms.
Around 14 cops descended on the Hollywood West Fred Meyer store in Northeast Portland, Oregon, Tuesday and threatened to arrest a group of around 20 activists who said they were trying to salvage the mountain of wasted produce to take to emergency weather shelters.
Fred Meyer said its staff were concerned the food – which included everything from lobster tails to cheese and juices and joints of meat – was no longer safe to eat.
The standoff came as some Portland residents have been left to survive without power for a week, leaving perishable food spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers after Storm Uri pummeled the US.
As of early Thursday, 106,000 Oregonians were still without power with grid officials warning the damage to the power system was the worst seen in 40 years.
More than a dozen Portland police officers were drafted in to guard dumpsters outside a Fred Meyer from hungry residents seeking food that had been thrown out when the store freezers failed in the winter storms. Pictured cops outside the store
Around 14 cops descended on the Hollywood West Fred Meyer store in Northeast Portland, Oregon , Tuesday and threatened to arrest a group of around 20 activists who said they were trying to salvage the mountain of wasted produce to take to emergency weather shelters
The mountain of food pictured in a dumpster. Fred Meyer said its staff were concerned the food – which included everything from lobster tails to cheese and juices and joints of meat – was no longer safe to eat
Portland police said they were called to the store at 3030 Northeast Weidler Street at around 4pm Tuesday because a group of people were said to be arguing with staff and refusing to leave.
Police said they didn’t initially respond to the scene but received another call about 15 minutes later from an employee who said they felt the situation was escalating and feared there may be a physical confrontation.
Morgan Mckniff, a local activist who uses they and them pronouns, told Oregon Live they had gone to the store to get some of the tossed food after losing power at the weekend and running out of food.
Mckniff said a group of employees were standing guard around the dumpsters to stop people salvaging the food.
At this point, McKniff said they started filming the staff who threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave.
‘After that, other people started showing up and asking them, ‘Why are you guys guarding a dumpster?’ Mckniff said.
There were reportedly around 15 hungry residents and activists on the scene when officers showed up and stood guard around the dumpsters packed full of food.
Police said in a press release that there were 14 officers at one point including a lieutenant, a sergeant, six officers, and three trainees who were there with their training officers.
McKniff told the New York Times some of the officers threatened the group with physical force if they didn’t leave.
The standoff came as some Portland residents have been left to survive without power for a week, leaving perishable food spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers after Storm Uri pummeled the US. Pictured the food thrown out
As of early Thursday, 106,000 Oregonians were still without power with grid officials warning the damage to the power system was the worst seen in 40 years. Pictured residents trying to salvage the wasted food
Residents hold aloft some of the food that was being tossed while many Oregonians are without power in the wake of winter storms
The police left about an hour after arriving and the group of residents and activists moved in and collected food they deemed salvageable. The activists said it was distributed to 11 community refrigerators around the city and to families in need
Why did Fred Meyer toss the food?
Fred Meyer said the food was thrown by staff because it was ‘no longer safe’ to be donated.
‘Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies,’ it said in a statement.
‘Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk foodborne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion.’
Guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency states that food in freezers will remain safe for around 48 hours and food in refrigerators for around four hours after power first goes out.
Under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, the business could have donated the food when its power first went out and would have been protected from potential lawsuits because they were donated within the safe window and in good faith.
Food shelters and aid groups across Oregon including Blanchet House and Feed the Mass often accept food being thrown due to power outages, reported Eater.
Fred Meyer told the outlet the store had lost power for 48 hours during the storm but it is not clear if this 48-hour period was up to the point the food was tossed.
Another witness, activist Juniper Simonis, told Oregon Live the police threatened to arrest the group for trespassing.
‘I’m just interacting with officers and trying to get their information, and then they say, ‘We’re going to arrest you if you don’t leave,’ and threatened me with trespassing,’ Simonis said.
Officers estimated the crowd grew to about 50 people, police said.
Police said they tried to explain the food was unfit for consumption but said ‘no subject in the crowd was willing to have an open dialogue with the officers and continued to shout insults at them and store employees.’
Police said officers were there to ‘preserve peace, prevent violence, and restore order’ and that no arrests or citations were issued and no force was used.
The police left about an hour after arriving and the group of residents and activists moved in and collected food they deemed salvageable.
The activists said it was distributed to 11 community refrigerators around the city and to families in need.
Fred Meyer faced a backlash over the incident at a time when many residents are struggling to feed their families amid the winter storms.
Oregon Rep. Barbara Smith Warner blasted the grocery store chain for its ‘wrong priorities’ on Twitter.
‘This is the definition of wrong priorities. I know you can do better. Please use an emergency spoilage plan, instead of misusing police,’ she wrote.
Comedian Jenny Yang tweeted: ‘THEY ARE USING ARMED GUARDS TO PROTECT A DUMPSTER OF PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD. this is not the America we should live in. our priorities are completely backwards. the real trash in this situation is @Fred_Meyer.’
Fred Meyer responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday saying the food was ‘no longer safe for donation’ and said the company donates 5.5 million pounds of food to food banks each year.
Fred Meyer faced a backlash over the incident at a time when many residents are struggling to feed their families amid the winter storms. Oregon Rep. Barbara Smith Warner blasted the grocery store chain for its ‘wrong priorities’ on Twitter
‘Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies.
‘Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk food borne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion,’ they said.
‘Fred Meyer donates 5.5 million pounds of safe, nutritious surplus food to our food bank partners and communities every year. We are engaging our store teams with this important reminder of our established processes in situations like this.’
Fred Meyer responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday saying the food was ‘no longer safe for donation’ and said the company donates 5.5 million pounds of food to food banks each year
But the activists on the scene believe the incident shows the value the city puts on people in need.
‘The people who were there weren’t there for selfish reasons — they were there to get food to distribute to hungry people around the city,’ Simonis told Oregon Live.
‘There are mutual aid groups that have been helping feed people at warming centers, because the city doesn’t have enough resources to feed them.’
More than 350,000 homes and businesses lost power in Portland at the weekend as Storm Uri plowed into the area.
Some homes have now been without power for over a week and desperate residents flocked to emergency warming shelters and hotels for refuge.
‘These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,’ Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, said.