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Storm Effects Cripple Houston's Power, Drinking Water Systems

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have two snapshots this morning of a state short of power and water. Some customers in Texas have electricity back this morning, we're happy to say. But as we will hear, many are still in the cold. We begin in Houston, which is the world energy capital. Houston Public Media's Laura Isensee has the story.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: As a U.S. Army veteran, Tanya Ingram (ph) prides herself on her survival skills. And this week, they've been tested. She hasn't had power in her home just east of downtown Houston since Monday. She and her family tried to warm up and recharge at a friend's house. That didn't work.

TANYA INGRAM: I call my family the black plague of electricity because as soon as we got to our friend's house, they lost power. So (laughter) we actually booked a hotel thinking that they had power. And we got there, they had no power. So it's like, we can't even get out of the cold.

ISENSEE: Then they were told to boil their water.

INGRAM: You almost feel, like, helpless. Like, I mean, are you freaking kidding me right now?

ISENSEE: Houston's mayor, Sylvester Turner, announced that power outages have hampered generators supporting the water distribution system, dropping the water pressure to unsafe levels. Some residents who left their homes to find warmth are coming back to a harsh reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SYLVESTER TURNER: People are returning to their homes. And their pipes have burst, like at the home of Sylvester Turner, your mayor.

ISENSEE: Turner says Houston officials are working to restore the water system. Until then, the city's 2 million-plus residents have to boil water if they need to cook, drink or brush their teeth. But hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses remain without power. So not everyone has the means to boil it to kill the potential bacteria. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who oversees emergency response for the region, asked people to conserve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINA HIDALGO: So our hospitals, our firefighters are facing low water pressure. And it's an enormous problem for them.

ISENSEE: To help, the city is using 13 trucks to distribute water to residents. The compounding disaster of cold weather, power outages and water problems is taking its toll. COVID vaccine shipments have been delayed. Hospitals are struggling to keep up. And there's the emotional stress on people who've just been through a lot this last year.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.