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Biden visits storm-battered Texas, pledges federal aid ‘for the long haul’

WASHINGTON – At an emergency response center in Houston on Friday, President Biden praised officials who had slept in stairwells as they worked around the clock to help people without electricity or clean water in due to devastating storms, low temperatures and the breakdown of basic utilities that had crippled Texas.

At a food bank, Mr Biden hugged a little girl who was volunteering, then spoke to a woman about the death of her oldest son, again tapping into the pain of others by accessing his own.

Later, during a visit to a stadium turned into a mass vaccination site that will administer gunshots to the arms of some 6,000 Texans a day, Mr Biden assured the federal government would work to provide water. clean drinking, blankets, food, fuel and shelter for those struggling to rebuild their lives in the state.

“We will be true partners to help you recover,” said Mr. Biden. “We are gone for the long haul.”

Relief from infrastructure and coronaviruses may be the official agenda in Washington, but the overwhelming nature of mourning has been the unofficial theme this week for a White House facing a pandemic that has resulted in catastrophic loss of life and now a disaster in the country. second largest state.

Not all presidents naturally take on the role of comforting the grieving, but Mr Biden, who lost his first wife and buried two children, is the rare politician who seems to draw his strength from the experience.

“He has given a lot of hope to people who know their suffering does not go unnoticed,” Sylvester Turner, Democratic Mayor of Houston, said in an interview. “He responds very quickly and his presence here means a lot to a lot of people.”

Mr Biden began the week by presiding over a solemn celebration of the pandemic’s latest milestone: more than 500,000 Americans dead.

“As we have been fighting this pandemic for so long, we must resist becoming numb with pain,” he said during a White House speech Monday night.

And when he traveled to Houston with First Lady Jill Biden, the President first used the power of his office to show his support for a community ravaged by twin crises.

“You save people’s lives,” Biden told a group of emergency medical workers at an emergency operations center. “As my mother would say, you are doing the work of God.”

In Harris County, which includes Houston, about 50% of its 4.9 million people lost power when storms hit. Nearly two weeks later, about 10,000 residents were still boiling their water, according to county officials, and more than 50,000 statewide were still on boil water advisories, according to officials from the Federal Land Management Agency. emergency room.

As soon as Mr. Biden hit the ground in Texas, he set a different tone than his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who has more than once threatened to deny federal funding to states recovering from disasters because ‘he had toxic political relations with state officials there. .

Mr Biden, who launched a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief program with very little Republican support, was joined by Republican elected officials who praised him for approving a declaration of major disaster for Texas, providing the flow of federal resources to some 126 counties throughout the storm-affected state. That’s about half of the counties Governor Greg Abbott, who joined Mr Biden on the trip, asked to be covered by the statement. Storm damage is expected to exceed $ 20 billion, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

“Governor and Senator Cruz and I have called for a federal government statement that provides access to public and private assistance through FEMA,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and another trip participant. , referring to junior state senator Ted Cruz, who was in Florida speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “This is going to be important for our recovery.”

“It’s good that Senator Cornyn is here,” Harris County’s top elected representative Lina Hidalgo told reporters who asked her about Mr. Cruz’s absence. “It’s good that Governor Abbott is here. This is a very important example of unity. “

At the food bank, Dr Biden slipped cans of peaches into food wrappers for students who rely on free school meals while the president spoke to children and told them about his own family.

It was a marked difference from Mr. Trump, who in 2018 was criticized for visiting a disaster relief center in Puerto Rico, only to throw paper towels at category hurricane survivors. 5. “I was having fun,” Mr. Trump said afterwards. “They were having fun.”

Mr. Biden sounded more reassuring – and less partisan – than his predecessor.

“We’re not here today as Democrats or Republicans,” Biden said. “We are here today as Americans.”

Maria Jimenez Moya contributed reporting from Houston.

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Impacting Travel

Texas hotels fill up during winter storms

When I arrived at the Residence Inn Dallas by the Galleria, the nearly year-long collapse in demand for accommodations appeared, at least temporarily, ended.

When Arctic air crashed through climate change weakened Jetstream that normally corners it around the polar regions and invaded the Lone Star State this week, I was among the millions of Texans who were left without power, and not I was the only one who remedied it. loss with a hotel reservation.

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As I stood in line in a lobby full of wealthy-looking Dallasites, many dressed in incongruous layers of designer sweatshirts and outerwear with excited dogs of different sizes and breeds, I noticed a kind of weary, artificial joviality was in play. the standard order.

A well-dressed woman pretended to collapse against the reception desk’s Plexiglas partition with exaggerated relief when the receptionist apologized for the long wait. “It’s nice to be in a place with electricity and a working shower,” she drawled.

Evidence that the property had been virtually unoccupied for nearly a year was common. The building has a dual brand between Marriott’s Residence Inn and AC Hotels properties. They typically maintain separate lobbies, elevators, and reception desks, but the reception desks had been consolidated into the air-conditioned lobby, where the two reception positions served the combined 256 rooms of both brands.

The spacious air-conditioned lobby was packed to the brim with guests working on spreadsheets or video conferencing with headphones, while the frozen pool was covered in fresh snow on the patio.

The hotel was fully booked, and it was no wonder after the morning I had spent trying to find accommodation. Several hotels in the North Dallas / Addison area were shown fully booked, either with guests fleeing frozen houses and compromised pipes or having closed reservations because the properties themselves faced the exact same problems.

Many larger hotels in newer buildings have emergency generators to continue to power the elevators and emergency lighting in case they lose power; sometimes generators can even maintain a certain level of energy throughout the building. Other nearby hotel buildings or essential structures, such as hospitals, can benefit from priority status for those parts of the network.

However, many hotels in the area reported that they were similarly affected by electricity shortages in the region or that they had frozen pipes and therefore had no running water.

I had another wrinkle in my own needs: I needed a hotel that accepted cats as pets. Many properties call themselves “pet friendly” when they really mean “dog friendly”.

Installed in my studio, I began to reflect on the many facets of the hotel industry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, travel to conferences and conventions evaporated. Individual bookings were down to a trickle of essential workers and die-hard leisure travelers. The hotels were left empty as potential guests sat in their homes.

Now, a steady stream of climate refugees has revived the abandoned corridors of hotels buried until recently. Business travelers heading to nearby office parks have been supplanted by displaced households doing their best to maintain normalcy in a temporary shelter, a social distancing in warm comfort. The hotel staff until recently on leave or with reduced hours is once again needed and appreciated.

I also found that a hotel room does not solve all problems. Immediate needs were addressed, but the security and warmth of the room did not end the anxiety surrounding the situation.

I could see in my thermostat app on my smartphone that my power was on and my house was slowly heating up for a good chunk of the time I was in the hotel, but there was no way of knowing how long it would last (the state The company utility was, at the time, trying to rotate the outages to different parts of the network). I use a CPAP to sleep, so the prospect of losing energy in the middle of the night was not exactly pleasant.

The length of the interruption is also unknown. Most hotel companies have maximized flexible cancellations for reservations, but in most cases it was still necessary to cancel at least one day in advance to avoid penalties. When would it be necessary to admit that you couldn’t depend on the electricity grid and pay for another night?

He had to continue by faith, but he had reminders that he had made good decisions over the next few days. I had electricity in my house most of the time (and the electricity at the Residence Inn started just as I was packing to leave), but only moments after checking into a nearby DoubleTree by Hilton, near The Galleria (the Residence Inn still it was sold out for additional nights), I received a message that the water in my condo had been shut off for plumbing repairs.

Fortunately, electricity and water have been available at DoubleTree for my entire two-night stay, but the hotel faces other weather difficulties in winter. Supply deliveries have been erratic so no DoubleTree cookies are available (damn). A buffet breakfast was available the first morning, but supply problems intervened, and the second morning only the cafeteria was open.

Protection issues aside, there is excuse for a ray of optimism. It feels good to be in a crowded (socially estranged) lobby again. It’s comforting to know that hospitality professionals who have had an immensely difficult year have returned to their profession, caring for hotels full of paying guests.

Good to know that the hotel industry continues.

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Travel News

Residents of a Texas border town have long been overlooked. The storm made the situation worse.

DEL RIO, Texas – Surrounded by ranch land, tall mesquite trees, and acres of thorny scrub, the border town of Del Rio may sound like the definition of rural Texas. Residents said they had long felt estranged from the state’s centers of power and bewildered by the changing approaches to immigration by their elected leaders in Washington.

And that’s just at typical times. Last week’s epic winter storm, which blanketed the area with more than 11 inches of snow and collapsed the state’s power grid, plunging most of the county’s residents into dark, unheated homes, has left many behind. feeling even more isolated, neglected and forgotten.

More than a week later, many shelves remain empty at local grocery and hardware stores, and a boil water advisory was finally lifted in Val Verde County, which includes Del Rio, on Thursday. Earlier in the week, a line of cars over a mile long drove to a food distribution site where federal officials distributed water, fresh fruit and produce. And on Thursday, as state lawmakers grilled utility officials 250 miles away in Austin over the power grid outage, workers at a city nutrition program provided meals to around 600 inhabitants, more than double its usual daily load.

“I really have the feeling that we are a bit invisible and unheard,” said Michael Cirilo, a 39-year-old juvenile detention officer. Like most of its neighbors in Del Rio, a predominantly Hispanic city of about 36,000, it lost power for several days last week. “Sometimes we feel like we are a bit alone here.”

Located in a southwestern part of the state on the Edwards Plateau, the bicultural Del Rio sits across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, a transit station for migrants crossing the states. -United. Laughlin Air Force Base, where military pilots train, is east of the city, and San Antonio, the nearest metropolitan area, is about 250 km away.

Rick Martinez, 41, who has a market in town, has made the roughly three-hour drive to San Antonio several times over the past week to stock up on produce that has not been restocked at Del Rio. On the contrary, the storm has reinforced how remote his city is, he said, and how he cannot depend on government aid in times of crisis.

“We probably need to work together on our community emergency response and just leave the government out of it,” he said, referring to his hometown, “because they left us completely out of there. ‘difference.

According to him, politicians are only interested in Del Rio, where he has always lived, during the election season. “When they run for office, that’s when you see them,” he laughs. “People are flying over us. They never stop.

Val Verde County, where the median household income is around $ 46,000 and where about 85% of residents are Hispanic, has been politically fluid for decades. But after several presidential elections in which he was found to be the Democratic candidate, he switched to Donald J. Trump in November. Mr. Martinez was among those who viewed Mr. Trump as someone who listens – especially on immigration matters.

No other elected official, he said, has found a viable way to fix the immigration system in a way that is sustainable for the city. “We needed someone, at least in our eyes, to start fighting against a deck that’s stacked against us,” he said. “He said things that maybe were nasty to some people, but we always felt like he was fighting for us.”

In recent weeks, the number of migrants entering Del Rio has increased, propelled by expectations of a friendlier reception from the Biden administration and by changes in Mexican policy that are making it more difficult for the United States to ‘expel some of them.

The outbreak worried Mayor Bruno Lozano, known as Ralphy, who said the city only had one center to help migrants and a limited number of volunteers, concerns that prompted him the week latest to advocate for President Biden to temporarily halt the influx across the border. The winter storm had depleted the city’s resources, he said in a video, and the city would not be able to cope.

“If you send these people to our community, we will be forced to make the decision to leave them destitute in these dire circumstances,” he said in the video, which included footage of sterile shelves and long lines. of masked and grouped buyers. waiting to enter a grocery store.

The mayor, a Democrat, also pleaded with Mr Biden not to release migrants without proper testing for Covid-19, in order to protect “taxpaying citizens”.

Mr Lozano, 38, said he understood the concerns of his constituents – and why someone like Mr Martinez would have voted for Mr Trump.

“The federal government is forcing local aid, local volunteers, local nonprofits to choose between their own citizens and friends, family and neighbors – and migrants who have gone through hell and returned to the states -United, ”he said in an interview. week. “We shouldn’t have to have to deal with these migrants, even during the good times.”

In the end, only one migrant family spent the night in Del Rio during last week’s storm, said Tiffany Burrow, director of operations for the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition. Migrants apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol are dropped off at the center, and volunteers help facilitate the non-financial details of the journey to their final destination.

On Monday, around 20 migrants asked for help from the coalition. But by Wednesday that number had risen to 76 – about triple what they typically saw in a single week before the recent surge that started last month, Ms Burrow said.

Mr Lozano said he had no choice but to put residents ahead of immigrants. “Here we are,” he said, “a rural town disconnected from the major metropolitan areas – and we are being left behind.”

It’s not just border issues, he said. He is dismayed by the headlines announcing large transit and infrastructure projects and mass Covid-19 vaccination sites across the state and country – initiatives that have yet to result in Del Rio, he said. “And us,” he asked.

This sentiment was shared by many residents of the city.

Elsa Hernandez, a retired school secretary, has not had running water for over a week. Her broken pipes cannot be fixed, she said, as there are no supplies in Del Rio for any of the city’s plumbers. Ms. Hernandez, 68, has lived with a friend for several days and feels left behind.

“I feel like I’m not getting any support,” she said, adding that she was worried about how she would pay for the damage caused by the storm. She also blamed city officials, who she said failed to adequately prepare residents for the storm.

About 30,000 of Val Verde County’s 49,000 residents lost power during the storm, said County Judge Lewis Owens, the top elected official. At least 15 dialysis patients had to be transported an hour’s drive to Eagle Pass, also a border town, when a hospital lost water pressure.

State lawmakers on Thursday held hearings to investigate the Texas Electric Reliability Council and its handling of last week’s power outages, which affected nearly every one of the state’s 254 counties and left more four million Texans without power, some for several days. Five officials have resigned from the board of directors of the group, which oversees the Texas power grid.

Mayor Lozano noted that his office was also without power and had sporadic internet access, making it difficult to coordinate aid and keep in touch with residents. Still, he said the lessons learned would mean better preparation for the next disaster.

If anything, he and other elected officials said, the storm underscored how unprepared the region was for such a crisis. The county didn’t have enough generators or a stockpile of basics like bottled water, Owens said, but it would for the next disaster.

Yet residents this week criticized their elected officials. Debra Reschman-Luna, an educator who lives in Del Rio, said she felt several city leaders blamed it elsewhere. “It’s a bit difficult for the federal government to hear from you and see you when your local officials are not a voice for you,” she said.

Ms Reschman-Luna said her political leanings were “totally fluid”. She does not identify as a Republican or Democrat, and instead casts her ballot for the candidate who she believes “serves the greater good.” It was up to local authorities to ensure that the voices of residents echoed on a larger scale, Ms Reschman-Luna said, adding that this had not happened as a result of the storm.

For the other residents, politics was out of their minds.

This week Juanita Balderas, 31, dragged a cart along a dirt road to the food distribution site, which was placed in front of a cemetery, on a barren expanse of land lit only by scattered fake flowers next to tombstones. Ms Balderas said she chose to walk from her mother’s house nearby after learning the length of the line.

Ms Balderas said she stocked up for the cold weather, but all of her food went bad after losing power last Monday. The pipes to her house burst, so her family – her husband and two children – went to her sister’s house.

All that mattered now was putting food on the table and fixing his broken house. “You know what, things are going on, you can’t control the weather,” she said. “I can’t blame anyone.”

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Travel News

In the field in Texas, 10 days later

On the ground in Texas, 10 days later Temperatures are back to normal, but everyday life is still tough for Texans affected by last week’s storms. By Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio

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Travel News

The future of Texas

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You can argue that the US state with the best long-term economic future is Texas.

It’s a more affordable place to live than most of the northeast or west coast, and it still has powerful means to attract new residents, including a thriving cultural scene, diverse population, and research universities from around the world. foreground. Its elementary schools and colleges perform well above average in reading and math (especially ahead of those in California), according to the Urban Institute.

These strengths have helped Texas’ population grow by over 15%, or about four million people, over the past decade. In recent months, two top tech companies – Oracle and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise – have announced that they will be moving their headquarters to the state, and Tesla may soon follow suit. Much like California in the 20th century, Texas today resembles a state that can embody and shape the future of the country.

But Texas also has a big problem, as the world has just seen. The fossil fuel problem is a useful way to think about it.

Even with its growing tech and healthcare industries, the Texas economy revolves around oil and gas. And these fossil fuels have created two threats to the state’s economic future.

The first is climate change, which is making Texas a less pleasant place to live. The number of 95-degree days has increased and severe hurricanes have become more common, including Harvey, which brutalized Houston and the Gulf Coast in 2017. Ironically, climate change can also weaken the jet stream, making it more common freezing weather episodes.

Nationally, Texas politicians have played a pivotal role in preventing action to slow climate change. At the local level, leaders have failed to prepare for the new era of extreme weather – including leaving the power grid vulnerable to last week’s cold snap, which in turn left millions of Texans without electricity or water.

Many residents feel abandoned. In Copperas Cove, a town in central Texas, Daniel Peterson told my colleague Jack Healy on Saturday that he was completely exasperated by officials who failed to restore power six days after it was cut. He is considering installing a wood-burning stove because, as he said, “it will happen again.”

In Dallas, Tumaini Criss spent the weekend fearful that she would not be able to afford a new home for herself and her three sons after a leaking pipe collapsed into her ceiling and destroyed appliances and furniture. . “I don’t know where this is taking me,” she said.

In San Antonio, Juan Flores, a 73-year-old Navy veteran, told my colleague Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio that he was frustrated by the lack of communication from local officials. When Giulia interviewed Flores, he hadn’t showered in days (and graciously warned her to take a step back by questioning her, saying, “I stink”). To get enough water to flush the toilet, he had gone to a bar. To heat his apartment, he boiled water on his stove.

The second threat is linked to climate change but different. This comes from the possibility that alternative energy sources like wind and solar power will become cheap enough to take down the Texas oil and gas industry.

“The cost advantage of solar and wind power has become decisive and promises to become even greater,” wrote Noah Smith, economist and native of Texas, in his newsletter Substack. “I don’t want to see my home state become an economic backwater, chained to the corpse of a dying fossil fuel age.”

Instead of adequately investing in new forms of energy, however, many Texas politicians have tried to protect fossil fuels. Governor Greg Abbott last week went so far as to blame wind and solar power – wrongly – for causing the power outages. The main culprit was the failure of natural gas, as shown in these charts by my colleague Veronica Penney.

As Smith explains, probably the best hope for the Texas energy industry is to embrace wind and solar power, not the scapegoat. The state, after all, gets a lot of wind and sun. “Texas can be the future, instead of fighting the future,” Smith wrote.

The larger economic history here is common. Businesses – and places – that have been successful for decades with a single technology rarely welcome change. Kodak did not promote digital photography, and neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal created Craigslist.

Texas political and business leaders have taken many successful steps over the past decades. They have avoided some of the political sclerosis that has held back parts of the Northeast and California, like zoning restrictions that benefit aging homeowners at the expense of young families.

But Texas rulers are sacrificing the future for the present in a different way. They have helped their fossil fuel companies maximize their short-term profits at the expense of the long-term welfare of the state. They have resisted regulations and investments that could have made their power grid more weather-resilient (as the Times story shows), and tried to reject climate change even as it forced Texans to endure harsh harsh conditions. more miserable weather conditions.

In this way, Texas offers a different – and more disturbing – glimpse into the future.

What is happening now:

The ball is life: Serena Aponso, 14 years old – named this Serena – worked as a ball kid at this year’s Australian Open. This is what his days looked like.

The media equation: Investigative journalism is booming in Russia. Ben Smith explains.

From the review: Ross Douthat considers Rush Limbaugh. And Gail Collins discusses next year’s midterm election with Bret Stephens.

Lives lived: Arturo Di Modica, sculptor and Sicilian immigrant, was best known for “Charging Bull,” a 3.5-ton bronze he illegally deposited one night in Lower Manhattan – where a monument remains. Di Modica died at the age of 80.

Sales of “computer glasses” are booming. The many companies that sell blue light glasses – priced at under $ 20 to over $ 100 – claim they can help relieve eye strain and improve sleep. But do we really need it?

No, say many experts. “Anyone who promises miracles with a pair of blue light-blocking glasses is probably selling something,” Wirecutter’s Kaitlyn Wells wrote.

The low level of blue light from the screens does not seem to cause any health problems. In Britain, a company had to pay a fine of around $ 56,000 after falsely claiming that glasses could protect the retina from damage.

Some experts believe that blue light – which is emitted from both the sun and tech screens – can cause problems sleeping. But glasses are not the only solution. Phone covers are often cheaper – and activating Night Mode is free, Tim Barribeau, an editor at Wirecutter, told us. Or you can just put your phone away a few hours before bed.

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Travel News

How Texas’ campaign for energy independence prepared it for disaster

But the two agencies are almost inexplicable and harmless compared to regulators in other regions, where many utilities have better consumer protection and submit an annual planning report to ensure adequate electricity supply. Texas energy companies have great latitude in planning for catastrophic events.

An example of how Texas has gone it alone is its refusal to impose a “reserve margin” of additional available power above expected demand, unlike all other power systems in North America. Without a warrant, there is little incentive to invest in precautions for events, like a snowstorm in the south, which are rare. Any company that took such precautions would put itself at a competitive disadvantage.

An excess supply of natural gas, the main electric fuel in Texas, near power plants could have helped avoid the cascade of blackouts in which electricity went out, forcing the production and transmission of natural gas offline, resulting in further power shortages.

Following the multi-day blackouts, ERCOT has come under fire from Democratic and Republican residents, lawmakers and business leaders, a rare manifestation of unity in a fiercely partisan, Republican-dominated state. Mr Abbott said he supported calls for the agency’s leadership to resign and had made reform of the ERCOT a priority for the legislature. The math was quick – this week lawmakers will hold hearings in Austin to investigate the agency’s handling of the storm and power outages.

For the ERCOT operators, the onset of the storm was swift and fierce, but they anticipated it and knew it would strain their system. They asked electricity customers across the state to save money, warning that blackouts were likely.

But late on Sunday February 14, it quickly became clear that the storm was much worse than they expected: sleet and snow fell and temperatures plunged. In the council’s command center outside Austin, a room dominated by flashing screens with maps, graphs and data to track the flow of electricity to 26 million people in Texas, workers stand are quickly found to avoid a crisis. As the weather deteriorated until Monday morning, residents turned up their heaters and demand increased.

Power plants began to fall offline in rapid succession as they were engulfed in freezing weather or ran out of fuel to burn. Within hours, 40% of the power supply had been lost.

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Travel News

Texas Winter Storm: what to know

Lots of people twisted sink handles and got nothing from their faucets. Residents were unable to bathe, wash their hands or use the toilet. In Harris County, which includes Houston, over a million people either had no water or were told to boil it first, and in Austin, the capital, residents were urged to boil water due to a power outage in the city’s largest water treatment facility.

Officials said restoring water service to hospitals was the top priority.

“We never imagined a day when hospitals wouldn’t have water,” said Greg Meszaros, director of Austin Water this week.

Without water and after days of blackouts, many Texans have lost perishables and are struggling to get more.

Many grocery stores have been cleaned up or closed, and food banks are distributing food as quickly as possible.

More than 500 cars lined up on Friday morning at the headquarters of the San Antonio food bank, which hoped to distribute 100,000 pounds of food and water over the weekend. At the site, volunteers and members of the Texas National Guard assessed pallets of bread, peanut butter, cakes, potatoes, onions, watermelon and other fresh produce, preparing food for residents hard hit by power outages.

Texas’ two largest public school districts will be closed for days after the storm and subsequent chaos, officials said, and several other school buildings were damaged, delaying in-person and virtual classes.

The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, said it will be closed until Wednesday, when virtual learning resumes, followed by in-person learning on March 1. The Dallas Independent School District, the second largest in the state, will also be closed on Monday and Tuesday, as crews clean up water damage and repair pipes, the district said.

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Its lights remained on during the Texas storm. He now owes $ 16,752.

Under some plans, when demand increases, prices increase. According to the architects of the system, the aim is to balance the market by encouraging consumers to reduce their consumption and electricity suppliers to create more electricity.

But when last week’s slump hit and electrical systems faltered, the state’s Utilities Board ordered the price cap raised to its maximum limit of $ 9 per kilowatt hour, easily pushing costs up. daily electricity of many customers above $ 100. And in some cases, like Mr. Willoughby’s, bills have gone up over 50 times the normal cost.

Many of the people who have reported extremely high charges, including Mr Willoughby, are customers of Griddy, a small Houston-based company that provides electricity at wholesale prices, which can change quickly depending on supply. and demand.

The company passes the wholesale price directly to customers, charging an additional monthly fee of $ 9.99. Most of the time, the rate is considered affordable. But the model can be risky: Last week, predicting a huge hike in wholesale prices, the company encouraged all of its customers – around 29,000 people – to switch to another supplier when the storm hit. But many were unable to do so.

Katrina Tanner, a Griddy customer who lives in Nevada, Texas, said she was already billed $ 6,200 this month, more than five times what she paid in 2020. She started using Griddy at the suggestion of a friend a few years ago and was happy at the time of the simplicity of listing.

However, as the storm unfolded over the past week, she continued to open the company’s app on her phone and see her bill “just go up, up, up,” Ms. Tanner said. Griddy was able to withdraw the money she owed directly from her bank account, and she only has $ 200 left. She suspects she was only able to keep that because her bank prevented Griddy from taking more.

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Texas Blackouts point to crises coast to coast waiting to happen

“We need to better understand these compound impacts,” said Michael Craig, an energy systems expert at the University of Michigan who recently conducted a study on how rising summer temperatures in Texas could put pressure on the grid. unexpectedly. “It’s an incredibly complex problem to predict.”

Some utilities are taking note. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012 cut power to 8.7 million customers, utilities in New York and New Jersey invested billions in flood walls, submersible equipment and other technology to reduce the risk of breakdowns. Last month, Con Edison of New York City said he would incorporate climate projections into his planning.

As freezing temperatures hit Texas, a problem in one of two reactors at a South Texas nuclear power plant, which serves 2 million homes, triggered a shutdown. The cause: The detection lines connected to the plant’s water pumps had frozen, said Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

It is also common for extreme heat to disrupt nuclear energy. The problem is that the water used to cool the reactors can get too hot to use, forcing shutdowns.

Flooding is another risk.

After a tsunami caused several collapses at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked the sixty or so decades-old operating nuclear power plants in the United States to assess their risk. flooding to account for climate change. Ninety percent showed at least one type of flood risk that was beyond what the plant was designed to handle.

The greatest risk came from heavy rains and snowfall exceeding design parameters at 53 factories.

Scott Burnell, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in a statement: “NRC continues to conclude, based on the review of detailed analyzes by staff, that all US nuclear power plants can cope. appropriate to potential flooding, including the effects of climate change. and stay safe. “

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Travel News

An apartment building in Texas burned down as firefighters rushed for water.

SAN ANTONIO – A 32-unit apartment complex near San Antonio burned from Thursday night to Friday morning as fire hydrants dried up after a winter storm that disrupted water supplies to millions of Texans.

Instead, firefighters were forced to rely on water from a nearby stream, which the trunks of tankers delivered via narrow, icy roads. These trucks were filling a containment pool in the apartment complex, but it could only provide water for a few minutes at a time.

“When we opened the fire hydrant, there was only air,” said Chief Jerry Bialick of the Bexar-Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department.

For hours, 125 firefighters from 16 departments fought the flames that threatened two neighboring buildings. On Thursday, residents stood in the cold and watched their homes burn down. Some tenants returned to inspect the smoking rubble on Friday.

About 130 people lost their homes.

“The firefighters were attacking the fire as best they could, but they were running out of water,” said Steve Henshaw, 48, who lived in the building with his wife and said they hadn’t had any water since Monday.

Mike Brinkmann, vice president of distribution and collections for the San Antonio Water System, said a prolonged power outage, combined with freezing temperatures, meant the utility was unable to pump water to a reservoir storage that feeds the apartment complex.

In normal power outages, which can linger for a day or two, there is enough water in the tank to last until power returns, but this week’s unusually long outage has drained the tank. Mr Brinkmann also said that the water left in the apartment’s sprinkler system was likely frozen due to insufficient pipe insulation.

Residents said they smelled something burnt Thursday afternoon. When firefighters arrived, a witness said he discovered that the heating element inside a water heater was operating without water in the system.

About two hours later, the apartment management company sent a text message asking residents to turn off the circuit breakers on their water heaters. Shortly after sending the email, firefighters discovered smoke rising between a tub and a wall.

Chief Bialick said the cause of the blaze remained unknown, but the blaze quickly spread.

The inability to get water from the fire hydrants “was literally like walking into a boxing ring with a hand and a half tied behind your back,” said Ken Jarvis, a public information officer for the service. fire.

Mr Henshaw and his wife, Joann Henshaw, escaped with their laptops. But Ms Henshaw, with tears in her eyes, said she left her wedding ring on the counter. Mr Henshaw, whose 73-year-old mother lived in another apartment in the building, said he lost valuable items from his time in the Air Force.

“Texas was not prepared for the winter storm,” said Ms. Henshaw, 49. “It froze our pipes. This is what ultimately led to the fire. It’s truly sad.”