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Texas shivers as furious officials call for answers over utility outages

People line up to fill their empty propane tanks Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. Temperatures stayed below freezing Tuesday, and many residents were without electricity. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP via CNN)

(CNN) — Officials are turning to the power company in Texas after 2.8 million residents have been in the dark and without heat for much of the winter storms that aren’t letting up soon.

“I share the frustration of every Texan regarding the loss of power during this winter storm. Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

Texans have seen unusual sights over this week: blankets of snow and sheets of ice as storms brought unusually severe winter to much of the US. With temperatures not expected to rise above freezing until Friday, officials worry how residents will cope without utilities knocked out by the weather.

When asked if leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s power provider, should resign, Gov. Greg Abbott said the company had failed.

“They showed that they were not reliable,” Abbott said. “These are experts. These are engineers in the power industry. Government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations.”

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness defended controlled outages, saying they have kept the state from a complete blackout.

Meanwhile, many Texans are putting their hopes to stay warm on backup generators and warming centers.

The city of Waco has made 15 hotel rooms available for six days.

“This is not a sustainable solution but helps keep vulnerable persons from sheltering in single-digit temperatures,” Mayor Dillon Meek said.

ERCOT said Tuesday that it is optimistic about power restoration, but Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo accused the company of overstating the outlook.

“The bottom line this evening is, we’re in for another long night,” Hidalgo said.

Austin Energy told residents Tuesday not to expect power to return “through Tuesday night and possibly longer.”

“All of our crews are ready to restore power to those affected as soon as we are authorized to do so by ERCOT. We recognize the hardships and understand why customers are frustrated,” AE said.

Loss of power and failure of backup generators also cut availability of water. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told CNN on Tuesday evening she had been without power or water for around 38 hours.

“If people have neighbors that they know don’t have heat and maybe they do, (then) offer to take them in. Let’s watch out for each other. Let’s try to do the right thing by helping, share what we have,” the mayor said.

Galveston said most residents had low or no water pressure due to water line breaks and failures, and the city’s water supply is “critically low.”

Houston said early Wednesday it is struggling to supply water.

“The City is working very hard to maintain water pressure but it is becoming increasingly difficult. There are 2 requests: please do not run water to prevent pipes from freezing and turn off water if pipes have burst,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a tweet late Tuesday evening.

Emergency officials have been inundated with calls, and San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told CNN he expected Tuesday night to get worse.

“We’re looking at some more rain and sleet tonight,” Hood said. “This could be the worst night as far as temperature.”

To stay warm, many people turn to unconventional heat sources such as stoves, grills or gas generators — which risk carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no odor, color or taste. It can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.

In Harris County, 14 residents have been taken to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning and seven of those were children, according to a tweet from the Cy-Fair Fire Department.

The Houston Fire Department has responded to 56 fire calls and over 90 calls for carbon monoxide poisoning, Chief Samuel Peña said in a news conference.

“It is critical that you understand the dangers of using open flames inside your homes to try to heat up your homes,” Peña said.

Houston officials said Tuesday a woman and girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after trying to stay warm using a car in a garage.

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