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Southern Cities Weren't Ready For Epic Freeze
By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS - Southern cities slammed by winter storms that left millions without power for days have traded one crisis for another: Busted water pipes ruptured by record-low temperatures created shortages of clean drinking water, shut down the Memphis airport on Friday and left hospitals struggling to maintain sanitary conditions.

In Texas, 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the state — were under orders to boil tap water before drinking it because low water pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system. 

About 260,000 homes and businesses in metro Memphis were told to boil water because of water main ruptures and pumping station problems. Water pressure problems prompted Memphis International Airport to cancel all Friday flights.

The water woes were the latest misery for people across the South who went without heat or electricity for days after the ice and snow storms  week forced rolling blackouts from Minnesota to Texas.

Texas electrical grid operators said electricity transmission had returned to normal for the first time since historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up home — buckling the state’s power grid and causing the widespread blackouts. Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an investigation into the failure for a state known as the U.S. energy capital.

Government and private meteorologists saw it coming, some nearly three weeks in advance. They started sounding warnings two weeks ahead of time. They talked to officials. They issued blunt warnings through social media.

And yet catastrophe happened. At least 20 people have died and 4 million homes at some point lost power, heat or water.

“This became a disaster because of human and infrastructure frailty, a lack of planning for the worst case scenario and the enormity of the extreme weather,” said disaster science professor Jeannette Sutton of University at Albany in New York.

Insured damages — only a fraction of the real costs — for the nearly week-long intense freeze starting Valentine’s Day weekend are probably $18 billion, according to a preliminary estimate from the risk-modeling firm Karen Clark & Company.

The weather service started talking about the freeze about two weeks ahead of time and gave “the most accurate forecast we can do along with consistent messaging,” said John Murphy, the agency’s chief operating officer. “The magnitude and severity of the event is one that some people weren’t fully prepared for.”


Published 09:31 AM, Saturday Feb. 20, 2021
Updated 08:13 PM, Saturday Feb. 20, 2021

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