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Biden Declares Disaster In Texas As Millions Are Asked To Continue Boiling Water

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle hands out water at a distribution site on Friday in Houston. Millions throughout the state remain under a boil water notice as many residents lack water at home due to frozen or broken pipes.
David J. Phillip
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle hands out water at a distribution site on Friday in Houston. Millions throughout the state remain under a boil water notice as many residents lack water at home due to frozen or broken pipes.

As Texas thaws from the unexpected deep freeze that knocked out power to millions and killed dozens, its residents are continuing to grapple with a secondary peril: lack of safe drinking water.

Texans across the state have reported water outages and burst pipes after water lines froze solid. Other residents once again have water coming through their faucets, but at low pressure.

As of Friday, more than 14 million people across the state had been asked to boil water in order to guard against possible contamination after water pressure dropped and water treatment was disrupted due to power outages.

On Saturday morning, the state was still determining how many people will need to continue boiling water. All water throughout the state is locally provided, so it takes time for the state to get their updates every morning, a spokesman for the governor's office tells NPR.

With millions still dealing with fallout from the storm, the White House announced Saturday that President Joe Biden had approved a major disaster declaration in Texas. It provides federal funding to individuals in 77 Texas counties, opening up emergency aid for assistance with home repairs and temporary housing, and low-cost loans to help cover uninsured property loss. Affected residents can apply for assistance at

Federal funding will also be available for local governments throughout all of the state's 254 counties, to help repair damaged infrastructure.

But until emergency aid is doled out, vulnerable Texans remain at risk. "I'm especially concerned for our people in low income communities, for our seniors, who don't have the means for example to go to a hotel," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told MSNBC. "They don't have fireplaces, for example. They don't have a means to get a plumber out there as quickly as possible."

Politicians from around the country are working to assist stricken Texans. By Saturday morning, a fundraising effort launched by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Thursday had already raised more than $3 million.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke has also been involved in relief work, organizing volunteers to make hundreds of thousands of wellness calls to senior citizens throughout the state. Local food banks and other organizations are also offering food and water to affected Texans.

In the wake of the deep freeze, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on state lawmakers to require that the state's power plants and generators be "winterized" so that they can handle future freezes without being minutes away from completely failing.

"We don't have the same sort of insulation for pipes that you may see in some colder climates," Houston Public Media's Gail Delaughter told NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. "It's probably going to be a while before you can get someone in to fix it."

In San Antonio, some people went down to the city's famed River Walk to get non-potable water to be able to flush their toilets. Others are thawing ice that they collected from the recent ice storm. One hospital in Houston even collected rainwater to flush toilets, Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom told CNN.

"We take a lot of things for granted, and water is one of those niceties that's really hard to be without," Boom said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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