Millions are still without power as winter storms continue

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Judson Jones and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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8:01 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

This Texas family is rationing oxygen for their premature baby

From CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz

Garcia's son, Christopher, was born with premature lungs.
Garcia's son, Christopher, was born with premature lungs. Courtesy Angel Garcia

Since the power went out on Monday night, one family has been rationing oxygen tanks for their five-month-old son in their Killeen, Texas, home.

Angel Garcia says her son was born at 26 weeks and he requires supplemental oxygen. He only came home three weeks ago. 

“We have an oxygen machine that converts room air, but since we’ve had no power, we’ve had to use our cylinders,” Garcia told CNN by phone on Wednesday evening. “Those went out and they only deliver those once a month. We’re not able to plug in his pulse oximeter to check on his oxygen. We’re keeping a constant eye on him to see how he’s doing.”

Her son, Christopher, was born with premature lungs. Garcia, a nurse, is watching him constantly, she said.

Garcia, her two children and her husband are trying to stay warm in their home. They made a makeshift heater out of a pot raised up on bricks above some candles. They are boiling bottled water because they don’t have water pressure at home. 

The family was running out of wood, so they started burning their 3-year-old daughter’s baby blocks in the fireplace, she said. She shared a photo of her daughter, Jordan, watching the fire as her toys burned. 

“A lot of people don’t know the severity of what’s going on. People are tearing down their fences to burn,” Garcia said in between tears. “We started burning my daughter’s little wooden blocks because it was just too cold.”

She says she hopes that people realize how bad the situation is in a state where people are not accustomed to this type of cold weather.

“Not everyone has gas but we waited in line about an hour and finally we were able to get some gas,” Garcia said. “There’s pretty much nowhere to go. Everyone in Texas is in the same boat. If they have electricity, there’s no water. If they have water, there’s no electricity.”

8:04 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

"We're looking at a food supply chain problem like we've never seen before," Texas official says

From CNN’s Keith Allen

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sounded the alarm in a statement Wednesday about the deleterious impact the winter storm is having on the state’s agriculture and food supply chain.

“I’m issuing a red alert regarding agriculture and our food supply chain here in the state of Texas,” Miller said in the statement. “I’m getting calls from farmers and ranchers across the state reporting that the interruptions in electricity and natural gas are having a devastating effect on their operations.”

“Grocery stores are already unable to get shipments of dairy products. Store shelves are already empty. We’re looking at a food supply chain problem like we’ve never seen before, even with COVID-19,” Miller continued.

Miller also asked Gov. Greg Abbott to designate agriculture producers and processors as “critical infrastructure that must be provided gas and electricity to continue operations,” he indicated in the news release.

“I salute all our hospital workers and first responders as they deal with this natural disaster, but they won’t have food to eat if our farmers are left without power,” Miller said.
8:05 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Two dead from cold weather exposure in Galveston County, Texas

From CNN's Dave Alsup

Two people are dead from cold weather exposure in Galveston County, Texas, according to Zach Davidson, spokesperson for the county's Office of Emergency Management. 

The spokesperson noted the county has “several more suspected” cold weather deaths but those are still under investigation.

Sixty to 70% of Galveston County remains without power. Davidson said there is no estimate on when power will return to the county, which is under a boil-water notice.

“Some parts of the county have no water to boil,” the spokesperson said.

7:41 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Biden postpones Michigan trip due to weather

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

President Biden is postponing his trip to Michigan Thursday due to weather, including pending weather issues in the Washington, DC, area, a White House official confirmed.

The trip is now expected to take place on Friday, the official said.

 He was scheduled to tour a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo on Thursday.

7:33 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Texas official: "Residents are frustrated. They are angry. They are cold."

From CNN's Anjali Huynh

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo CNN

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo painted a dire picture of the area's current state Wednesday, saying they have "not seen sustainable improvements" since her briefing yesterday evening.

Critical resources like fire departments and hospitals still lack water. Residents bringing heating devices indoors in attempts to stay warm has led to carbon monoxide poisoning. And one million CenterPoint Energy customers in the region do not have power, though Hidalgo said this is the least number of customers without power since Monday morning.

"Residents are frustrated. They are angry. They are cold. What they're enduring and continue to endure is heartbreaking, and it's frustrating," Hidalgo said at the conference. 

There is "reason to be optimistic" because the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has added energy generation capacity, Hidalgo said, but residents should prepare for a few more days without power. 

Hidalgo noted that Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee is leading an initiative to prevent price gouging. Hidalgo and Menefee said these practices have been widespread, citing examples such as vacation home rentals with power charging $1,000 a night or stores selling water at two to three times the typical rates.

"We can't imagine something more cruel than taking advantage of people who are suffering right now in this disaster and have been suffering for days," Hidalgo said. "To those out there that are thinking that they can make a quick buck out of our community's pain, know that we will not tolerate any price gouging on our watch."

Menefee added that violators may be prosecuted, saying that it is illegal to charge exorbitant prices under Texas' state of emergency. Residents are encouraged to report such instances of price gouging.

"In the middle of this major disaster, the last thing that Harris County residents need to be concerned about is having to pay additional money for basic necessities as they work to survive freezing temperatures," Menefee said.

The primary concern for tonight, now that the second winter storm has passed, is that wet roads will refreeze and cause black ice. There is another "hard freeze" expected Thursday night and Friday morning when temperatures drop again, meteorologist Jeff Lindner said.

6:21 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Houston closes all coronavirus vaccination sites Thursday

The Houston Health Department in Texas will close coronavirus vaccination sites on Thursday due to the winter weather.

The sites have been closed all week because of the storm.

The health department said it will contact people to reschedule their vaccination appointments.

"People with appointments scheduled during the closures who do not receive notification due to power outage, connectivity issues or other reasons should not show up to a site," the health department said in a statement
6:00 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Carbon monoxide poisoning a threat in winter storms, CDC reminds doctors 

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat as people struggle to stay warm during power outages brought on by severe winter storms sweeping the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a warning to doctors Wednesday.

Emergency officials in several states affected by the storm reported poisoning and even deaths as people tried to stay warm by running cars, grills and generators without taking the proper precautions. Texas reported 50 cases, including two deaths, on Tuesday.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding healthcare professionals seeing patients from the areas affected by recent winter storms to maintain a high index of suspicion for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Other people who may be exposed to the same CO source may need to be identified and evaluated,” the CDC said in a health alert.

“A tension-type headache is the most common symptom of mild CO poisoning. Other common symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness, weakness, drowsiness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.”

The American Red Cross also issued a warning to the public.

"Don’t use a gas stove to heat your home and do not use outdoor stoves for heating. If using a generator, keep it outside in a well-ventilated area away from windows,” the Red Cross said.

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless gas that can build up when any type of fossil fuel is burned – gasoline, coal or natural gas. Home heating systems are a common source, but the danger is especially high when people turn to unusual sources of heat or power during electricity outages.

5:51 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Border Patrol agents rescue 23 undocumented immigrants exposed to frigid temperatures

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

US Customs and Border Protection
US Customs and Border Protection

US Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have rescued 23 undocumented immigrants since Saturday after being exposed to frigid temperatures from the winter storm in Texas, US Customs and Border Protection said in a news release Wednesday. 

"South Texas is experiencing abnormally low temperatures, leading to an increase of calls for assistance from individuals that entered the United States illegally," the release said.

The individuals were lost in the brush or required medical assistance, according to the release. Some were rescued as far north as Kleberg County, Texas.

"Once located, RGV agents provided medical aid to the lost individuals. Two subjects required further treatment and were transported to a local hospital after displaying signs of hypothermia," the release said.

The rescued migrants come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the Border Patrol said.

5:45 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Power company asks Louisiana customers to conserve energy due to shortages

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

Entergy Louisiana is asking customers to voluntarily conserve energy from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. tonight due to power shortages.  

All customers in the state are being asked to voluntarily start conserving power immediately by setting thermostat to 68 degrees or lower, unplugging or turning off non-essential appliances or electronics and avoid using large appliance, according to a release from Entergy Louisiana.  

According to the release, if the power supply cannot meet the demand, then periodic power outages would be needed to prevent an extensive power outage that could last an extended period. 

This unusual request is due to the demand for electricity potentially exceeding the available generation due to the extreme cold and weather conditions currently impacting our service territory. Current load forecasts are approaching an all-time peak, even greater than those experienced during the polar vortex of January 2019, the release said. 

According to poweroutage.us, there are more than 111,000 customers in Louisiana without power. 

CNN’s Gisela Crespo contributed to this post.