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Home World As Power Begins to Return, Many Texans Lack Drinking Water

As Power Begins to Return, Many Texans Lack Drinking Water

A line formed at a park in Houston that had running water on Thursday, with people filling bottles and other containers with water. 
Credit…David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The power crisis spurred by the massive winter storm currently hobbling Texas has also become a water crisis, with millions of homes and businesses dealing with burst pipes or forced to boil water for drinking, as utilities suffer from frozen wells and treatment plants are forced to run on backup power.

About 13 million Texans remain under a boil-water advisory, and 797 water providers are reporting problems, Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Residents in Austin, the capital, were told to boil water because of a power failure on Wednesday at the city’s largest water-treatment facility. Electricity had been restored by Thursday afternoon, but the city’s water director, Greg Meszaros, said there still remained “a lot of hard work” before the system would be in full working order.

The city’s reservoirs, which can hold about 100 million gallons of water — a day’s worth — were nearly empty after water leaked out of burst pipes and broken water mains or was used in recent days, Mr. Meszaros said.

“If we simply try to turn the system back on everywhere and don’t check for leaks and do this in a methodical way, we’ll simply repeat what happened the other night where all the water drains out of our system,” he said, adding, “We never imagined a day where hospitals wouldn’t have water, large segments of our customer base wouldn’t have water.”

At St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, officials were trying Wednesday night to fix a heating system that was failing because of low water pressure. They were forced to seek portable toilets and distribute bottles of water to patients and employees so they could wash their hands.

The city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a 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.”

And in Harris County, which includes Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, more than one million people are served by local water systems that have either issued boil-water notices or cannot deliver water at all, said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the county emergency management agency.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said on Thursday that the city’s water pressure was slowly improving, and that power had been restored to many residents. Even so, the city would probably be under a boil-water order until Sunday or Monday, he said

“Things are starting to improve,” he said. “Now, we still have a way to go.”

In San Antonio, Jesse Singh, 58, said that his father, Ram Singh, 80, was turned away from regularly scheduled dialysis treatments Tuesday and Thursday because his clinic was having water issues. “It’s a dangerous situation,” the younger Mr. Singh said.

Another winter storm on Thursday brought freezing rain, snow and temperatures that were “much below average,” a gut punch for Texans who have resorted to stoves, barbecue grills, gasoline generators and their vehicles to keep themselves warm.

Days of glacial weather have left at least 38 people dead nationwide, made many roads impassable, disrupted vaccine distribution and blanketed nearly three-quarters of the continental United States in snow.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas warned residents to brace for continued misery. Cold temperatures are likely to until this weekend, he said in a media briefing on Thursday. The governor urged residents who needed immediate assistance to find a warming shelter near them, and asked people who are able to help to do so.

“We are not yet out of this, but we’re closer to this challenge being behind us,” he said. “We will not stop until normalcy is restored to your lives.”







Ted Cruz Leaves Mexico Amid Winter Emergency in Texas

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas flew home from a vacation to Mexico after receiving heavy criticism for leaving the state while millions have struggled with a lack of electricity and water in recent days due to a brutal winter storm.

Keep working to get the grid reopened, to get power restored, get water back on. A lot of Texans are hurting, and this crisis is frustrating. It’s frustrating for millions of Texans, it shouldn’t happen.

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Senator Ted Cruz of Texas flew home from a vacation to Mexico after receiving heavy criticism for leaving the state while millions have struggled with a lack of electricity and water in recent days due to a brutal winter storm.CreditCredit…Reuters

As Texas was battered by an icy storm and widespread power losses that left millions of residents freezing and fearing for their safety, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas left the state on Wednesday and traveled to Mexico for a previously planned family vacation, according to a person with direct knowledge of the trip.

Photos of Mr. Cruz and his wife boarding a flight from Houston to Cancún, Mexico sparked a fierce outcry on social media late Wednesday. The person familiar with his trip, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Mr. Cruz’s personal travel, said the senator planned to return to Texas on Thursday.

Mr. Cruz’s office issued a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Mr. Cruz said, adding that, like millions of other Texans, his family had lost heat and power.

Mr. Cruz insisted that he and his staff had been “in constant communication” with state and local leaders during his brief Cancún trip. The Senate was in recess this week.

“This has been an infuriating week for Texans,” he said.

As Mr. Cruz left the country, his home state was gripped by crisis: millions of people without power, many without running water and a deep freeze so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated to send supplies. Gov. Greg Abbott declared that, “Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised.”

While the city of Houston was gripped by the freezing weather, a member of Mr. Cruz’s staff contacted the Houston Police Department personnel at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday afternoon requesting “assistance upon arrival,” according to Jodi Silva, a department spokeswoman.

Ms. Silva said they had “monitored his movements” before he departed. Ms. Silva said she did not have any information about Mr. Cruz’s potential return to the city on Thursday.

Mr. Cruz himself had posted updates throughout Wednesday on Twitter about the intensity of the winter storm from the National Weather Service. “Stay safe and please continue to follow the warnings and updates provided by state and local officials,” he wrote on Wednesday morning.

With Mr. Cruz’s office silent as the photos spread on social media, some spotted an “CRU, R.” on a public standby list for a 4:44 p.m. flight from Houston to Cancún on Wednesday. Those same initials briefly appeared on a standby list for a return flight on Thursday afternoon. Both eventually disappeared. Mr. Cruz’s formal full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.

Mr. Cruz’s decision to leave his state in the middle of a crisis was an especially confounding one for a politician who has already run for president once, in 2016, and widely seen as wanting to run again in 2024 or beyond.

Mr. Cruz, 50, narrowly won re-election in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke, a former representative, with less than 51 percent of the vote. In that race, Mr. Cruz aggressively touted his efforts in a past emergency, Hurricane Harvey. He is not up for re-election again until 2024.

Even before he left town, Mr. Cruz’s critics were already recirculating tweets he sent last summer criticizing California for being “unable to perform even basic functions of civilization” after the state’s governor asked residents to conserve electricity during a spate of deadly wildfires. Mr. Cruz lampooned California’s “failed energy policy” as the product of liberal excess.

Mr. Cruz had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see 100 or more deaths this week. “So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids,” he said.

More recently, in December, Mr. Cruz had attacked a Democrat, Mayor Stephen Adler of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo while telling constituents to “stay home” during the pandemic.

“Hypocrites,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Complete and utter hypocrites.”

A member of the housekeeping staff and her daughter in the lobby of a dark hotel in San Antonio. Hundreds of thousands of Texans are still in the dark as utility companies work to restore power.
Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of Texans were still in the dark on Thursday as utility companies worked to restore power across the state.

Of the 12.5 million utility customers in the state, 365,414 remained without power Thursday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us, which records and aggregates live power outage data from utilities.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Thursday that it had made significant progress overnight restoring customer power, although some outages still remain. The company said that rotating outages might still be needed over the next few days to keep the grid stable.

“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on,” said Dan Woodfin, the council’s senior director of system operations, in a statement.

Sunday, 7 p.m.

110,000 customers (0.9%)

Monday, 3 a.m.

1.1 million customers (8.8%)

Monday, 10 p.m.

4.5 million customers (31.6%)

Tuesday, 12:15 p.m.

4.4 million customers (35.1%)

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

3.4 million customers (27%)

Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

490,000 customers (3.9%)

Percentage of customers without power

Sunday, 7 p.m.

110,000 customers (0.9%)

Monday, 3 a.m.

1.1 million customers (8.8%)

Monday, 10 p.m.

4.5 million customers (31.6%)

Tuesday, 12:15 p.m.

4.4 million customers (35.1%)

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

3.4 million customers (27%)

Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

490,000 customers (3.9%)

Percentage of customers without power

Sunday, 7 p.m.

110,000 customers (0.9%)

Monday, 3 a.m.

1.1 million customers (8.8%)

Tuesday, 12:15 p.m.

4.4 million customers (35.1%)

Monday, 10 p.m.

4.5 million customers (31.6%)

Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

490,000 customers (3.9%)

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

3.4 million customers (27%)

Percentage of customers without power

Percentage of customers without power

Sunday, 7 p.m.

110,000 customers (0.9%)

Monday, 3 a.m.

1.1 million customers (8.8%)

Monday, 10 p.m.

4.5 million customers (31.6%)

Tuesday, 12:15 p.m.

4.4 million customers (35.1%)

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

3.4 million customers (27%)

Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

490,000 customers (3.9%)

Source: PowerOutage.us | Figures reflect outages in Texas and exclude neighboring states.

Oncor, Texas’s largest electric utility, said it had access to enough power to cease rolling outages, but still had 150,000 customers without power because of winter storm damage and other issues. The company said it had crews working around the clock to restore downed power lines.

“When your power line is pulled down from trees, our personnel have to go out there in the ice and the cold, they have to remove the debris, they have to clean up the tree, and they have to potentially rebuild that pole, and then they have to rehang the line,” said Kerri Dunn, a spokeswoman for Oncor.

“It’s extensive repair work that has to be done in these areas,” she said, “and they’re doing it in hazardous conditions in these cold temperatures.”

With no electricity, Eric Traugott and his son warmed up by a fire outside their apartment in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Officials at the Electric Reliability Commission of Texas on Thursday defended the agency’s performance during the worst winter storm to hit the state in a generation, which cut power to millions and has prompted state officials to call for investigations and resignations.

As the storm was sweeping over the state late Sunday night, operators at the agency, which controls the flow of power for 26 million people, watched as the demand for electricity soared. Inches of snow fell along the border with Mexico, and temperatures in Amarillo plummeted lower than in Anchorage, Alaska. Residents huddled inside their homes cranked up the heat.

At the same time, power plants were falling offline at a rapid succession. Natural gas wells were stalling from the cold. As the operators saw it, there was no choice: They had to turn to rolling blackouts.

“We haven’t seen anything like this,” Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the reliability commission, said at a briefing on Thursday. “I would say that was the most difficult decision that was made through this whole event.”

The commission, the independent operator for 90 percent of the state’s electricity load, has been assailed by state officials as millions of residents have endured days without stable electricity and water service, forcing many to sit in the cold and dark through some of the most frigid temperatures Texas has seen in decades. Gov. Greg Abbott has urged commission officials to resign, and he joined other state leaders in calling for investigations and an overhaul of the agency’s operations.

During a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Abbott said the organization, known as ERCOT, had not only failed in its response to the winter storm, but had misrepresented its preparedness beforehand. Five days before the storm, he said, the commission assured Texans that it was “ready for the cold temperatures coming our way,” and had said in its annual winter assessment that the state had enough power to meet peak demand.

“ERCOT failed on each of these measures that they said they had undertaken,” the governor said. “Texans deserve answers about why these shortfalls occurred and how they’re going to be corrected — and Texans will get those answers.”

In the commission’s briefing on Thursday, officials argued that the structure of the agency and its methods of operation followed the directives set by state lawmakers.

“If the legislature thinks that there needs to be change, it’s certainly something that we’ll follow,” Mr. Magness said. “We need to follow the state statute because that’s our governing document when it comes down to it.”

Commission officials said that its winter preparedness plans had been built around the agency’s experience in 2011, when one of the worst snow and ice storms in recent years hit the state.

Pallets of bottled water were lined up for delivery to vulnerable populations in Houston.
Credit…Marie D. De Jesús/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

The power had been out for two days when the waterlogged ceiling caved in at the Family Place, a domestic violence shelter in Dallas, unleashing a freezing waterfall onto the 120 women and children seeking refuge there on Tuesday.

Torrents of water soaked their clothes and the few possessions they had brought with them. The flood spoiled hard-to-replace legal documents. The hallways became streams. The residents and staff members tried to sweep out the water and stacked up bedsheets to create dams, but soon gave up and hurriedly piled into five city buses to seek shelter at a church six miles away.

“They lost basically everything,” said Shelbi Driver, a resident advocate at the shelter.

Advocates said at least three other domestic-violence shelters around Dallas were also evacuated after pipes burst and flooded their hallways with frigid water, displacing hundreds of vulnerable people who did not have the option of going home.

“They went through one horrible trauma, came to our organization to get safe and had another trauma,” said Paige Flink, the chief executive of the Family Place. She said the shelter was likely to be unusable for three months until the plumbing can be fixed and the damage can be repaired. Other shelters worried they would not be able to house people for even longer.

“It makes me want to cry just to say it,” Ms. Flink said. “It is a total nightmare.”

All Thursday afternoon, cars filled with people looking for water streamed through a makeshift relief center in a working-class corner of West Dallas where volunteers handed out food from the luggage compartment of a tour bus.

Denise Gonzalez, 40, said that a bit of flickering power had finally returned to her apartment, but her pipes were frozen solid and she couldn’t bathe, shower or use the toilet. She had been calling plumbers all day, but one of the few who answered told her it would be $3,000 to come out to assess the damage.

“If I had $3,000 I wouldn’t be getting food from people on the bus,” she said.

Daniel Mejia, 39, said the lack of water at his house was only one of his problems. He had run out of food and his 10- and 13-year-old children were stuck at home eating crackers and peanut butter.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

Customers waited in a long line outside a Kroger Grocery store in Houston on Wednesday. Food banks are facing dwindling supplies from grocery stores, their main source of donated food.
Credit…Mark Felix for The New York Times

A crushing winter storm was the last thing that food banks in Texas needed.

The numbers of needy families had been rising because of the pandemic, and when the storm hit this week things only got worse.

Now, food banks are facing a drop in supplies from grocery stores, their main source of donated food. Transportation problems are cutting off distribution, and the demand for certain types of food, such as those that are ready to eat, has increased to meet the needs of people who have limited electricity and water.

“It feels like the pandemic all over again,” said Celia Cole, the chief executive officer of Feeding Texas, the state’s largest network with 21 food banks that reach all 254 counties.

Before the pandemic, the network was feeding about 4 million people every year, but that number rose last year by about 60 percent, Ms. Cole said. As the effects of the pandemic bore their way into every aspect of people’s lives, with death, illness and job loss, visits to food banks increased as well, she said.

The storm created a greater cascade of problems. Trucks are stuck on impassable roads. Grocery store shelves are wiped clean of stock. Some of the food banks themselves lost power.

Feeding Texas has been working with warming shelters to provide ready-to-eat meals to about 800 people, Ms. Cole said. That has meant about 4,000 lunches, breakfasts and meal kits, she said.

“In general we are anticipating an increase in need as a result of the storm,” she said. “Need typically doesn’t go back down as quickly as you might expect.”

The most immediate demand is for ready-to-eat meals and water, she said. “We do not have enough inventory on hand,” she said.

Each of the network’s food banks is working with local authorities to request supplies, and working with the national network, Feeding America, and state emergency management services.

Ms. Cole said grocery stores can usually make available products that have reached their expiration date but are still edible and nutritious — as well as overstocked items.

“We lose a lot of that because grocery stores are struggling to keep their own shelves stocked,” she said. “We have lost access to that as well.”

The storm and supply chain disruptions are having a broad impact. Sid Miller, the state agriculture commissioner, said livestock growers are out of feed, dairy farmers are pouring out milk and a lack of natural gas has caused some chickens and calves to freeze to death, according to a report in The Texas Tribune.

Ms. Cole also said produce growers in the Rio Grande Valley are anticipating significant crop damage and losses.

Local news stations are providing live updates from grocery stores to help guide people to supplies.

Friction between supply and need has been felt elsewhere as the storm slammed states across the nation. In Oregon, a grocery store tossed food into dumpsters after the winter storm knocked out its power, leading to confrontations between the police and people who tried to take it to eat or hand out.

A line of cars waiting to fill up propane tanks in San Antonio on Thursday.
Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Joseph Ray was the first to arrive at the Hydrogas Propane station at 6 a.m. Thursday to fill his tanks. He needed the propane the night before for heat and cooking, but the line of cars waiting to enter the gates of the depot was a half mile long, and Hydrogas was closing for the night.

Mr. Ray, 54, lives with his wife in a travel trailer on the far edge of San Antonio, where their power came back on Wednesday, after five days of blackout.

“The pipes are frozen. They’re PVC. When the water comes back on, we’ll know if they burst,” he said from his truck. Ice and snow accumulated on his windshield, as another winter storm rolled through the area.

By 10:30 a.m., with no sign of Hydrogas opening, Mr. Ray gave up on waiting and drove off. Others stayed in line, believing it to be one of the few propane businesses in the city with fuel left.

Many of the drivers said the power returned to their homes on Wednesday, and most said their pipes were frozen or that their water runs out in a trickle. San Antonio’s leaders have suggested residents boil their water before drinking it.

Leo Cruz, 46, said he relies on propane to heat his apartment. Next year, he’ll invest in larger tanks to avoid being caught in the cold again.

One by one, as the wind blew harder and the gates of Hydrogas remained closed, the drivers left. By 11 a.m., only 10 remained. Daniel Barrientes, 32, was one of them, having already waited three hours.

He is staying with his wife, mother, father and two children, aged 5 and 6, at a Holiday Inn nearby. Their home doesn’t have electricity, water or cell service. The propane was needed to heat the small amount of food they had in store.

Without any sign of progress, Mr. Barrientes drove away empty-handed, too.

“I think it’s staying closed,” he said, after returning to the motel. At least there the power was back on, he said. “It’s too cold now. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

By noon, six vehicles remained in the blistering storm outside Hydrogas.

Trucks of firewood await pickup in Abilene, Texas, as people struggle to keep warm this week without power.
Credit…Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News, via Associated Press

As Texas continues to struggle with cold weather, power outages and water shortages, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made 60 generators and fuel available for critical locations like hospitals and water facilities, a White House official said Thursday.

The agency has also provided 729,000 liters of water, 225,000 meals and tens of thousands of blankets, according to the official, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House homeland security adviser.

Later Thursday, the White House announced that President Biden had declared an emergency in Louisiana, following emergency declarations for Texas and Oklahoma.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Ms. Sherwood-Randall said this week’s extreme weather demonstrated again that “climate change is real and it’s happening now, and we’re not adequately prepared for it.”

“In particular, power grids across our country, particularly in Texas, are overloaded by the demands that are placed on them under these circumstances, and the infrastructure is not built to withstand these extreme conditions,” she said. “Going forward, we will be leading an effort to strengthen and harden our critical infrastructure so that it can be prepared to meet the full spectrum of challenges that we’re likely to face in the future.”

Power is still out for many as sleet, snow and ice shut down Dallas, Texas.
Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

The winter storm that swept through Texas with freezing temperatures and rain has moved to the northeast, causing power outages and slick driving conditions from Mississippi to New York.

In Mississippi, images on social media showed trees and buildings coated in a layer of ice. Dangerous cold is expected in much of the state Thursday night and into Friday, causing black ice and slippery roads.

Nearly 200,000 Mississippi customers were without power as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, and tens of thousands more were without electricity in Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

The Carolinas are also bracing for power outages from wind and fallen trees. Freezing rain had begun to fall Thursday morning and should continue all day, with a risk of flash flooding in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The utility company Duke Energy predicted a million customers in the Carolinas could lose power for several days from the storm.

“Ice buildup causing trees and branches to fall on power lines is usually the culprit for power outages during an ice storm,” the company said in a statement. “Ice buildup of a quarter-inch or more is often the threshold amount that causes trees and branches to fall.”

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency Wednesday and encouraged people to plan ahead.

“People need to be ready to stay home and be prepared to lose power for a while, especially in the northern, western and Piedmont counties,” he said in a statement.

The National Weather Service also warned of possible significant ice accumulation across the southern mid-Atlantic.

Farther north, the icy rain has turned to snow. Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through Friday night, and heavy snow was already falling in New York City Thursday morning. The city is expected to see several inches of snow.

Massachusetts is under a winter weather advisory, with three to seven inches of snow expected to accumulate through Friday evening.


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Several inches of snow fell on Thursday across the New York region, covering trees, sidewalks and streets. The snow is expected to continue through Friday evening.CreditCredit…Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Several inches of snow fell on Thursday across the New York region, covering trees, sidewalks and streets, as part of a bout of winter weather that could continue through Friday evening.

Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through Friday night, said Jay Engle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Weather Service said between two and four inches of snow had fallen across much of Long Island and New York City, with 3.2 inches recorded in Central Park. Total amounts could reach up to eight inches by Friday, according to the Weather Service.

Recent storms buried the city in snow, but Mr. Engle described this one as “not as intense, but enough to make travel difficult.”

Winds will be moderate, reaching 25 miles per hour on Thursday night.

Parts of upstate New York will see only a few inches of snow: Albany may receive up to three inches and Poughkeepsie six inches, the service said.

A warning issued for the northeastern region of New Jersey, including parts of Essex, Union, Passaic and Bergen Counties, projected up to seven inches of snow. A similar advisory was put in place for southern Connecticut, including parts of Middlesex, New Haven and New London, where several inches of snow was expected through Thursday.

Travel conditions across these areas were expected to be hazardous into Friday, the Weather Service said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said on Thursday that crews were salting roadways and preparing to plow, though he expected the overall impact to be “not too bad.”

“We know Mother Nature throws us curveballs sometimes, so we’re going to stay vigilant,” he said.

Although the city was shutting down some outdoor dining because of the storm, other services, such as the city’s coronavirus vaccination sites, would remain open, the mayor said. But the weather problems across the country continued to delay shipments of new doses, prompting officials to push back the opening of two new distribution sites originally scheduled for Thursday

A site at the Empire Outlets in Staten Island will now open on Friday, and another site at the Martin Van Buren High School in Queens will open on Sunday at the earliest, Mr. de Blasio said, adding that the delays were complicating a rollout that has already been slowed by a limited supply of vaccines.

Dialina Gonzalez gathered her belongings after spending the night on a mattress inside Gallery Furniture.
Credit…David J. Phillip/Associated Press

James F. McIngvale, a Houston furniture store owner known as “Mattress Mack,” saw his fellow Texans cold and hungry, with little shelter from the winter storm that has ravaged the state and knocked out power to millions.

So just as he did during Hurricane Harvey and other storms, Mr. McIngvale, 70, opened his doors, and the people came.

Since Tuesday, thousands have made the trip to Mr. McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture, spending a few hours on armchairs and couches to warm up, or sleeping on their choice of beds intended, in better times, for the prospective customers who visit the more than 100,000 square feet of showroom. As many as 500 people have chosen to spend the night for the past two nights, he said.

For now, at this impromptu shelter, those in need can eat donated meals or food paid for by Mr. McIngvale. Children frolic on playground furniture in the children’s section. Masks and hand sanitizer stations are set up in front as a precaution against the coronavirus, another danger that Texans are struggling with as they face freezing temperatures, power outages and a lack of clean drinking water.

“We are free enterprise for profit,” Mr. McIngvale said in an interview on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, I would be judged by how much difference I make, not how much profit I make.”

Mr. McIngvale and his wife started the furniture store on Houston’s North Freeway about 30 years ago with a $5,000 investment. He said he is inspired by his Catholic faith.

“When my people are dying and freezing, I am going to take care of them,” he said. “That comes before profit every time.”

Mr. McIngvale said the store has been using a large generator for electricity, although he said power was slowly starting to come back on Thursday. Restroom use can be a challenge without running water, he said, but buckets of water were brought in from an outside source to flush the toilets.

Rosie May Williams, 48, who said she is homeless, tried to take shelter at a convention center earlier this week but was told it was over capacity. She was transported by bus to the furniture store, and has slept for the past two nights on a recliner, eating smothered chicken for dinner on one of those nights.

“They have been very good to me,” she said.

Many of those who chose to stay have organized themselves as volunteers, emptying trash and taking care of other people, who range in age from very young children to older adults in their 90s, Mr. McIngvale said.

“We will stay open for as long as people need us,” he said.

A family in Austin whose electricity was restored but who still lacked water melted snow for toilets and dishes. Experts say there are techniques that make the process more efficient. 
Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Record-low temperatures in Texas and elsewhere have strained power grids and forced millions to reconsider how to stay warm. Now, days after that arctic blast chilled parts of the Central and Southern parts of the United States, a new problem is emerging: finding water.

Boil-water advisories were issued by officials in Harris County, including the city of Houston, and the Texas capital, Austin. And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a shortage.

Now, some in Texas have turned to a once-unthinkable source: snow.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said melting snow for drinking water was “an emergency measure, if no other water is available,” it had also been cited as an emergency option by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service.

The science of measuring how much water can be obtained by melting snow has been studied by NASA.

But melting snow — for drinking, bathing, washing dishes or flushing toilets — safely and effectively may be trickier than many assume.

If you “just take snow, put it in your pot and turn the heat on,” said Wes Siler, a columnist with Outside magazine, “it’s going to take forever and waste a bunch of fuel.” Mr. Siler, who demonstrated his technique on a small outdoor stove, said it was more effective to melt a small amount of snow first. Then, once that is boiling, add more snow.

This step will “accelerate the process of melting snow tenfold,” Marty Morissette, an outdoor enthusiast, has said. (He said it may be because water transfers heat more effectively.)

Also, since water expands when it freezes, a pot full of snow may turn into a pot with very little boiling water, so be prepared to work with a lot of snow.

This arduous process will produce usable water, but perhaps not the kind of water many are accustomed to receiving from their faucet.

If you are melting snow on an outdoor fire, the CBC cautions, “the smoke from the fire can affect the taste of the water.”

The C.D.C. urges people to bring the water to “a rolling boil” for at least a minute to “kill most germs” but also politely reminds that it will not get rid of “other chemicals sometimes found in snow.”


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