During a Feb. 19 press conference, Abbott said he has submitted a Major Disaster Declaration to the federal government in an effort to get financial relief to Texans who have suffered property damage during the past week of winter weather. He said President Joe Biden has assured him that the declaration will be approved by his office.
Once approved, the Major Disaster Declaration will allow Texas residents to apply for individual financial assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fix damages to homes that are not covered by private insurance. Abbott said the Texas Division of Emergency Management will work with local officials to help residents apply for these FEMA funds once they are available.
“We are working nonstop with local and federal partners,” he said. “Our staff and I have been in communication with local leaders as well as emergency officials throughout the state, and we will continue to work closely with them. We're also working with the Biden administration and federal officials.”
In response to winter weather, Abbott said, the state continues to prioritize four areas of concern: power, water, supplies and fuel production.
Although 165,000 homes across the state are still without power, Abbott said there are no longer residential power outages being caused by a lack of power generation in the state. Additionally, he said 10,000-20,000 homes are having power restored each hour.
The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s energy grid, announced Feb. 19 that operations have returned to normal.
"There is enough generation on the electric system to allow us to begin to return to more normal operating conditions," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, in a Feb. 19 statement.
The remaining outages across the state are now due to damages to systems being addressed by local utilities, or because local utilities have not had a chance yet to turn circuits back on, Abbott said.
“For those still without power, we want them to know that local providers are working around the clock to restore electricity,” Abbott said.
Abbott said he has issued waivers to cut red tape and accelerate the process of restoring water service to residents and making sure that water is clean.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is also setting up resources for local water utility operators who are struggling to get the quality of their water tested. He said three mobile testing labs have been established, and the state is partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency, local river authorities and the state of Arkansas to access labs and testing facilities.
He said hundreds of Texas plumbers had their licenses renewed Feb. 19, and the state plumbing board is working to get out-of-state help as the demand for services to fix pipes and water line breaks continues to increase.
Restocking food and supplies
Abbott said the delivery of food and water to Texas grocery stores has been delayed due to icy roads and harsh conditions as demand has increased over the past week. He compared the empty shelves seen across the state to those caused by hurricanes in the past.
“We've dealt with similar challenges like this [in] hurricane after hurricane, so it is something that we are accustomed to doing through ordinary emergency response,” he said.
He said the state is suspending some regulations related to commercial vehicle travel and the use of off-road diesel fuel to expedite the process of moving food and supplies. The Texas Military Department is delivering bottled water by air to cities across the state, including Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Abilene, which will receive shipments by the end of the day.
“These efforts, combined with the fact that roads are clearing up by the minute, means that our grocery stores and other retail stores will have stocked shelves for Texas families more quickly,” Abbott said.
Bringing refineries back online
Similar to how driving conditions have slowed the delivery of groceries and supplies, local gas deliveries have been hindered by icy roads, which has caused gasoline shortages in some parts of the state. Cold temperatures also impacted production at refineries across Texas. Abbott said the state is focusing on getting refineries back up and running to provide residents with the fuel they need.
“I spoke with refineries to get their input and their suggestions so that we would be able to provide them whatever type of assistance they need to get their operations back up and running again as quickly as possible,” he said. “We've already issued a number of waivers to expedite this process.”