Millions in Texas were without power Wednesday amid winter weather, bitter cold and the looming threat of more ice for a swath of the state and parts of the South.
By midday, more than 3 million people did not have electricity, according to tracking site poweroutage.us, and winter weather advisories, warnings or watches stretched from Texas to Virginia.
NBC News spoke with a half dozen Texans who all said they had one main concern: heat.
“We need heat most importantly,” said Courtney Heineman, a single mom in South Dallas. My house thermostat is at 39 degrees. Twenty hours — no heat, no fireplace, no food.”
Isaac Warren, 43, of Southwest Austin, said: “We’re now at approximately 36 hours straight without power. We need heat. It was approximately 40-43 degrees in our house this morning.”
“My girlfriend and I would love to just have a couple of hours of electricity to heat the house a little. That is our biggest need,” Warren said. “Really disappointed with our governmental leaders at all levels. This is a complete failure of leadership.”
Following an ice storm, Austin Energy on Wednesday morning reported that customers should prepare to be without power for Wednesday and “possibly longer.”
Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas’ energy production, said on Tuesday evening that it was working on restoring power as soon as possible. ERCOT’s CEO Bill Magness described the amount of time people in Texas have had to be without electricity during the extreme cold as “terrible” and “unacceptable” in a Tuesday press conference.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation of the electrical grid operator over the outages.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” he said in a statement. Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”
Tweets from ERCOT said it had directed utilities to restore 700,000 households, but confirmed that millions of households were still without power.
“We know this is hard. We continue to work as quickly and safely as possible to restore power,” said a tweet from the utility. “We hope to reduce outages over the course of the day.”
George Hendricks, 65, of Austin, said he had been without power for two days.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Hendricks said. He was burrowing under blankets in his living room, afraid to burn a fire in a fireplace because he didn’t know if it was safe.
“I feel like ERCOT or the state government weren’t prepared for an event like this, and they probably should be.”
Roads hadn’t been cleared of the 5 inches to 6 inches of snow that fell, so Hendricks was unable to relocate to a friend’s house or hotel.
“It’s like a bad movie,” he said.
Adam Gill, 47, was also trapped in his Austin home.
“I’ve had no power since 2 a.m. Monday, going on 30-plus hours freezing temps with no way to leave because the roads have 6-8 inches of unplowed snow and ice,” Gill said. The one grocery store he could walk to had a line 200 people deep, he said.
Keerthimanu Gattu, 25, of Dallas, was worried about lasting another day.
“I’ve had power for only like four hours in the last 32 hours,” he said. “I wish the authorities, Oncor and ERCOT, had provided a schedule of when to expect these outages.,” he said “Layering up, sealing the windows is helping a bit but it is soon going to be of no use.”
Colton Williams, 27, of Houston Heights, was concerned his house wouldn’t make it.
“My house is 34 degrees and the power has not been turned back on at all,” he said. “We are starting to see leaks forming as the pipes in our house freeze,” Williams said. “My temperature is not going up with the sun, it’s actually sitting at 34. … Last night I woke up once every two hours to walk into my house and make sure that everything is still in tact. I need heat today or my house will likely have severe damage.”
“I can see my breath on every floor of my house,” Williams added.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the power outages were necessary to salvage the Texas power grid. She said the outages could last longer than the weather.
“It’s really testing a lot of people,” she said. “It’s extremely tragic stories.”
In Galveston, below freezing temperatures over the last two days caused water line breaks in homes and businesses throughout the city, prompting authorities to urge residents to limit their water use.
Wednesday’s NBA game between Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks in Dallas has been postponed, the league said. The city was under a winter storm warning again and can expect 2 to 5 inches of snow and ice to accumulate through the day.
The storm will then spread snow and ice through the lower Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the Ohio Valley through Wednesday night.
The National Weather Service said bitterly cold air will remain entrenched across a large swath of the U.S., with another round of snow and ice expected to hit the Southern Plains, mid-south, mid-Atlantic and northeast this week.
Severe winter weather across large parts of the country prompted a warning from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday of “widespread delays” in Covid-19 vaccine shipments over the next few days, especially out of the FedEx facility in Memphis and UPS facility in Louisville, which serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states.
Since Thursday, winter weather has played a role in at least 30 deaths across the country, officials said. Many of those deaths have been in Texas.
Six people were killed in a pileup on an icy Fort Worth highway Thursday, and a woman and child died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston on Tuesday. Officials said it appeared a car was running in an attached garage for heat because the power was out.
Four died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Clackamas County, Oregon, over the holiday weekend, according to the sheriff’s office, as the state also experienced power outages.
Officials pleaded with the public to be careful using gas-powered generators, remind them to never use them inside and to avoid using ranges or ovens to keep warm or idling cars inside garages for heat even if the door is open.
“It doesn’t take much, and a little bit can begin to be lethal,” Houston fire Chief Samuel Pena said.