More than four million people in Texas have been left without power and two people are dead, as a fearsome winter storm has sent temperatures plummeting to -22C and plunged vast swathes of the state in darkness.
Law enforcement reported two men were found dead along Houston-area roadways. Causes of death were pending, but officials said the subfreezing temperatures were likely to blame.
A state of emergency has been declared and President Joe Biden has ordered federal assistance to supplement local response efforts, after 4.7 million people woke up with no electricity on Monday. Around midday, service had been restored to almost 2.6 million of them.
As nightfall threatened to plummet temperatures again into single digits, officials warned that homes still without power would likely not have heat until at least Tuesday, as frustration mounted and the state’s electric grid came under growing demand and criticism.
In a statement on Monday morning, ERCOT, Texas's main electricity supplier said: "Energy conservation is critical. Rotating outages are underway to reduce demand on the electric system. Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power."
"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness.
The Lone Star State has experienced chaos over the past week. For the first time all 254 counties are under a winter storm warning, while 1,600 flights have been cancelled.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport said it would remain closed until at least 1pm CST (1900 GMT) on Tuesday, while the city’s Hobby Airport ceased operations until at least noon on Tuesday due to the inclement weather.
On Sunday, there were nearly 120 car accidents in Houston alone, while on Thursday, icy roads led to a massive crash involving more than 100 vehicles in Fort Worth, killing six people and leaving dozens more needing hospital treatment.
“It’s lovely to see the white but very dangerous at the same time because people here don’t know how to drive in it. You know they’re driving too fast,” said Michael, a Houston resident who gave only his first name.
A convention centre has been made available for homeless people looking to escape the cold.
“The window to prepare for this historic storm has closed as the time to hunker down is here,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Sunday evening.
Temperatures have plummeted because of an “Arctic outbreak” which started in Canada, but has been pulled down the country by weather systems.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said the Arctic blast will not subside until later this week.
There is another storm on the way on Wednesday, expected to bring more snow, ice and sleet from the Texas panhandle through Kentucky and up through Washington D.C. to New York City, New Jersey and Boston.
“It’s not really going to warm up until at least Friday,” said David Roth, of the NWS Weather Prediction Centre. “We’re not getting a break.”
The Arctic blast has seen temperatures drop across most of Texas to their lowest point in 30 years, but some areas have experienced the coldest weather in more than a century.
Amarillo will see a high temperature of just -17C, breaking the city’s previous record of -11C that was set in 1895, a forecaster from the service’s Weather Prediction Centre, Marc Chenard, told Reuters news agency.
The weather alo caused the largest oil refinery in the US to shut down its operations. Motiva Enterprises said "unprecedented freezing temperatures necessitated safely and methodically shutting down" the oil refinery located in Port Arthur, Texas, which processes more than 600,000 barrels a day.
But the cold temperatures are not just affecting Texas.
Much of the United States has been shivering under chilly temperatures for days, with only parts of the southeast and southwest dodging it.
Nearly 170 million people are now under winter weather advisories and there are emergency declarations in at least seven states, including Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.
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