The Slatest

Biden Declares Major Disaster in Texas as Water Crisis Continues

Volunteers prepare to load cases of water into cars during a water distribution at the Astros Youth Academy on February 20, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Volunteers prepare to load cases of water into cars during a water distribution at the Astros Youth Academy on February 20, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas as millions of residents continue to struggle to get access to food and safe cleaning water amid severe winter storms. Biden had already declared states of emergency in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas due to the storms. The declaration opens the door for more federal aid to flow to the state that has suffered widespread blackouts and water shortages amid frigid temperatures. “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 said Saturday in announcing the declaration. Biden has said he will travel to Texas once his presence doesn’t take resources away from relief efforts. “If, in fact, it’s concluded that I can do it without creating a burden for the folks on the ground while they are dealing with this crisis, I plan on going,” Biden said.

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Although most in Texas have been getting their power back in recent days, many have effectively traded one crisis for another as millions of people in the state do not have easy access to safe, drinkable water. While some 80,000 customers remained without power Saturday morning amid below-freezing temperatures, more than 14 million people were experiencing disruptions in their water service. Around a quarter of people in Texas, amounting to some 7 million people, were under orders to boil tap water due to low water pressure that could have allowed for bacteria to build up. The water woes extend beyond Texas. In Tennessee some 260,000 homes and business were under orders to boil water and water pressure woes forced the Memphis International Airport to cancel all flights Friday. In Jackson, Mississippi, some 160,000 people were without running water.

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In Texas, hospitals have been overwhelmed in a way that doctors say rivals what they’ve seen throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of water is particularly problematic for hospitals as they can’t run dialysis machines nor sterilize equipment for surgery. In many rural areas, hospitals turned into de facto shelters where people went to get warm.

As recovery continues, many are starting to take a look at why the disaster occurred in the first place and whether it could have been avoided. Congress is likely to launch an investigation next week and the state legislature is likely to launch its own investigation, reports the Washington Post.

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