Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, which has suffered widespread power blackouts and water shortages during a deep freeze, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said on Saturday.
The declaration makes federal funding available to individuals across the state, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans for uninsured property losses.
Though many in Texas have had power restored and temperatures are no longer below-freezing, the state is still reeling from the winter storm that pummeled its power grid and left millions without heat, food or safe drinking water. On Saturday morning, about 80,000 customers were still without power.
At least 30 people have died in Texas since Sunday, according to the Washington Post. Authorities have not released an official death toll and say it could be weeks until it is known. Some counts put the toll at at least 69.
Many say the power crisis has turned into a water disaster, also affecting other states including Mississippi and Tennessee. On Friday, more than 14 million people were affected by a disrupted public water system.
Half of the state was under a boil-water advisory after water treatment centers experienced blackouts. Even those with access to safe water had been told to turn off their water, for fear thawing pipes will burst, causing flooding. Residents short on water were being advised to take measures including using melted snow to fill toilet tanks and contacting neighbors with running water for assistance.
Food scarcity was also an issue, with panicked shoppers clearing shelves, school meal programs suspended and food banks struggling to keep up with demand.
“People are out of options,” Terri Willis, executive director of a community resource center in Texas, told the Guardian. “They’ve gone into survival mode to get what they can. We are all in disaster mode.”
Biden said on Friday he hoped to visit Texas next week but also said he did not want to cause a burden to local authorities.
“When the president lands in any city in America, it has a long tail,” he said, “and they’re working like devils to take care of their folks.”
Anger has spread over attempts to spread blame for the crisis by elected Republican officials at state and federal levels.
Rick Perry, a former governor, US energy secretary and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was widely ridiculed after he said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business” when expressing pride in the state’s power grid system.
Though early reports indicate malfunctions in the state’s natural gas supply played the biggest role in the outages, Republicans have insisted that renewable energy sources like wind turbines were to blame for the blackouts. Natural gas remains the state’s top energy source for electricity.
“Our wind and solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our grid,” Governor Greg Abbott told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States.”
The Green New Deal is an ambitious package of proposed legislation championed by progressive Democrats. It is not law.
Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), which runs the Texas power grid, have said that while all types of energy sources had some problems, renewable energy malfunctions accounted for just 13% of energy loss.
While the Texas state government has oversight over Ercot, over the last two decades Republican governors have largely left it up to the power company to decide on costly weatherization upgrades.
Calls to better regulate the state’s power grid have become louder this week. Abbott called for an investigation into Ercot and urged state lawmakers to make a law requiring the weatherization of power plants and utilities.