Texans who have been without power for days in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri are now also facing food and water crises as frigid temperatures and ongoing blackouts disrupt supply chains and wreak havoc on the state's infrastructure—compounding emergencies that have spurred intensifying backlash against GOP leaders.
At his first press conference since the devastating winter storm slammed the state, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott—facing growing calls to resign—said Wednesday that he didn't know when the nearly three million households still without power will see their electricity restored.
"That is information that has not been provided to me," said Abbott, who has shifted blame onto state energy officials and erroneously claimed the state's wind and solar power sources are responsible for blackouts.
In a statement following Abbott's press briefing, Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said the Republican governor's "lack of foresight and inability to manage this crisis is part of a repeated pattern."
"Crisis after crisis, Greg Abbott has failed and passed off blame to somebody else," said Hinojosa. "Texas is in dire straits. Texans are dying. Homes are being destroyed, people are cold and hungry, and we have no idea when things will begin to return to normal because our state government continues to fail. Millions of Texans are without power in freezing temperatures, many of them for the last 60 hours. At least 21 Texans have died. Their blood is on Abbott's hands."
As of late Wednesday, an estimated seven million Texans were under a boil water notice, guidance that households without electricity will not be able to follow. That, and widespread water shortages, is what forced some residents of Houston—the fourth largest city in the United States—to bring empty jugs and buckets to a local public park, where water was being distributed through a spigot.
The Houston Chroniclereported Wednesday that "a large chunk of Houston households had already lost water pressure altogether or had seen their pipes freeze, preventing access to the city's water system."
"The crisis extended to key facilities, depriving hospitals and the Harris County Jail of running water. Houston Methodist canceled most non-urgent surgeries and procedures due to the water shortage and may do so again Thursday," the local outlet noted. "The plummeting water pressure was the result of bursting pipes across the city and equipment failures at water distribution facilities due to frigid weather conditions."
Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, tweeted Wednesday that the growing water crisis "is a public policy catastrophe."
Castro delivered a similar message in an appearance on MSNBC late Wednesday, declaring, "This is becoming the worst state-level policy disaster since the Flint water crisis."
"We have state leadership—Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick—that want to point fingers at everything except the problem. For the last few decades, they have been the problem," said Castro. "This is not the breakdown of a system, this is a system that is broken down by design."
On top of the ongoing power outages and water disruptions, many Texans are beginning to run out of food as grocery stores with increasingly empty shelves have been forced to shut their doors to customers due to continued blackouts.
As The Texas Tribunereported Wednesday:
Across the state, people are using up supplies they had stockpiled and losing more as items start to spoil in dark refrigerators. Some are storing their remaining rations in coolers outside...
Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable crops in the Rio Grande Valley have frozen over in what The Produce News described as a 'Valentine's Day produce massacre.' School districts from Fort Worth to Houston have halted meal distributions to students for the next several days, and Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said dairy farmers around the state are pouring $8 million worth of milk down the drain every day because they can't get it to dairies.
Celia Cole, the CEO of hunger-relief organization Feeding Texas, said that so far, eight food banks have asked the state for extra help feeding their communities. Several food banks affiliated with Feeding Texas have also started providing food supplies to emergency warming shelters in the state's major cities. Wednesday afternoon, the Central Food Bank of Texas canceled its deliveries scheduled for Thursday in Austin and Rockdale.
Hinojosa said Wednesday that blame for the intertwined emergencies facing the people of Texas ultimately lies at the feet of Abbott, whose "lack of care has put lives and communities in danger."
"He didn't take action when Texans were displaced during Hurricane Harvey, he refused to plan appropriately for the coronavirus crisis, his handling of vaccine distribution has been abysmal, and now, in Texas' time of greatest need during this winter storm, his incompetence is once again on full display," said Hinojosa. "This isn't partisan politics. This is a question of his basic ability to do the job he was elected to do. We've given Abbott chance after chance to prove that he can manage our state government and he's failed to answer the call every single damn time."