Biden approves disaster declaration for Texas amid deep freeze

Declaration unlocks federal funding and aid for Texas, where winter storm has left millions without power and water.

United States President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration for the state of Texas, where a major winter storm has left millions without power and water.

In a statement on Saturday morning, the White House said Biden declared “a major disaster exists” in the US state and authorised federal funding and other forms of assistance to aid state and local authorities.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House statement reads.

Millions of Texans have suffered power outages and water service interruptions after a severe winter storm hit the state on February 11.

Dozens of people have died as a result of the storm and subzero temperatures, including many who reportedly died as a result of hypothermia.

Houston resident Jay Farrell uses water from his hot tub to flush his toilet as people across the city are without running water after pipes ruptured due to freezing temperatures [Callaghan O’Hare/Reuters]

Biden said this week he is weighing a trip to Texas, if it would not create a burden on local authorities.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday thanked Biden for approving the disaster declaration.

Abbott said he had requested individual and public assistance in all 254 Texas counties and that the Biden administration approved individual assistance in 77 counties and public assistance in 254 counties.

“While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need,” Abbott said in a statement.

Water crisis

Power has been restored to many across the state, with just under 56,000 households still without electricity as of just before 22:00GMT on Saturday, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks power outages across the country.

But the “disaster has firmly transitioned into a water crisis”, the Texas Tribune reported on Friday. The news outlet said about half the state was dealing with water problems after pipes and water lines burst.

On Friday, Abbott said the state’s main priority remained restoring power to homes, followed by restoring clean water access. He said three mobile water testing labs have been set up, while authorities consulted with a plumbing board to quickly repair burst pipes.

The state is also working to provide food and supplies to residents and to help refineries get back up and running to provide fuel, Abbott said in a statement.

“We know that this past week has been challenging for far too many Texans. Our state agencies are working around the clock to restore power and water, and to ensure Texans have food and supplies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday announced plans to open an investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which supplies power to more than 26 million people in the state, and other power companies over what happened.

Paxton said the probe will examine power outages, emergency plans, energy pricing and other issues that came up during the disaster.

“While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark,” Paxton said in a statement. “We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from Washington, DC, said the energy infrastructure in Texas is completely independent from the national grid and major questions have been raised about how the disaster occurred.

She said the US Congress and Texas state legislature are expected to hold hearings on what went wrong.

“Another question that’s coming up is why the state was so poorly prepared to deliver food and water in this crisis,” Saloomey said.

Source: Al Jazeera