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Record freezing storm ravages southern US

Record freezing storm ravages southern US Record freezing storm ravages southern US

Pipes burst, pools damaged, millions of Texans without power, water and heat

Following the mid-February freezing winter storm that left more than 5 million Americans without power, the majority of whom were in Texas, there is an estimated $1 billion worth of agricultural and property damage.

At least 14 states imposed rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity. Temperatures dropped to minus 30 degrees in some parts of the country, with life-threatening wind chills between negative 30 to negative 60 degrees in the north-central U.S.

The situation was especially dire in Texas where, of the state’s 12.5 million utility customers, over 3 million remained without power for days even as one Texas city after the next reported record low temperatures. Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency issuing a winter advisory for the entire state, the first time in Texas history.

“Every source of power Texas has, has been compromised,” Abbott said on February 17, as he banned natural gas providers from sending shipments of gas outside the state, ordering them to instead direct those sales to local power companies.

The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about

Texan pool service technicians report roads impassable, preventing them from reaching customers following the storm. Most residential pools have burst pipes and broken pumps as pools in Texas are not usually winterized. See story on pages 6 and 8. 86,000 megawatts in the summer. But according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, on February 17, 46,000 megawatts of power were offline statewide - 28,000 from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants and 18,000 from wind and solar.

The weather also caused major disruptions to water systems in several southern cities, including Shreveport, Louisiana, and numerous Texas cities where residents were asked to stop letting water drip from pipes, a practice to prevent freezing, because of a major drop in water pressure from burst pipes.

On February 17, nearly seven million Texans were under a boil water advisory, and about 263,000 people were affected by nonfunctioning water providers, Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said at a news conference.

In the major cities of Austin, Houston and San Antonio, where temperatures plummeted to historic lows of 7, 13 and 9 degrees respectively, residents were told to boil their water because the pressure drop allowed bacteria to seep into the pipes.

And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents to suspend their water use entirely until further notice because of the shortage.

“Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,” officials of the city of 48,000 said in an advisory. “We are close to running out of water supply in Kyle.”

Water service was also temporarily unavailable for much of Abilene, Texas, on February 15 and resident assistants at McMurry University found ways to keep toilets flushing at their dorms by filling up coolers from the campus swimming pool. Residents there and in other areas where water service was suspended were melting ice to keep toilets running.

On February 17, in anticipation of a growing number of broken pipes and other water problems, Gov. Abbott announced the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners could give out provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers to help with repairs. Mr. Abbott said he would also issue a waiver that allowed plumbers with expired licenses to help as the state recovered.

Damages to U.S. homes and pools is substantial: freezing conditions combined with power outages quickly resulted in burst pipes, flooded homes and damaged property. Home owners were reporting flooding from burst pipes whose water melted when the power came back on briefly David Crow of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Arlington, Texas, said they had over 2,200 calls in 24 hours.

But anyone who works in hydraulics – and that certainly includes pool and spa service professionals - will be extremely busy in the coming weeks if not months. Texas service professionals were reporting completely frozen pools, frozen and burst plumbing, trashed equipment and equipment shortages that had already been depleted by Covid.

Because the work load is so great, Texas pool service companies solicited and received offers of help from outof- state service professionals and leak detection specialists on Facebook group pages. And because of the equipment shortages, some even offered to load up trailers and U-Haul’s before they arrive.

Many Americans were reported to have died from the effects of the storm including a 77-year old Louisiana man, who drowned after falling into an icecovered swimming pool.

Others across the country died from exposure, fires, carbon monoxide poisonings, car accidents, falls and more.

Equipment pad in North Richland Hills, Texas. Photo credit, Jason Lehmann, The Water Connection.

Equipment pad in North Richland Hills, Texas. Photo credit, Jason Lehmann, The Water Connection.

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