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Millions of people struggle for drinking water as deadly winter storms worsen power crisis in Texas

AUSTIN, USA: Millions of Texans are facing water shortages after the deadly winter storm ravaging the state caused pipes to burst and treatment plants to back up, disrupting services and contaminating supplies.

Texas officials ordered 7 million people – a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state – to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.

The disruption to water supplies comes after winter storms caused widespread blackouts as they wreaked havoc on the state’s power grid and utilities, leaving millions without power for days.

At least 38 people have died nationwide from winter storms or frigid conditions since last week, a time in which more than 2,500 records for the lowest maximum temperature for the date have been set. Eight other deaths are suspected to be weather-related but authorities are waiting on autopsy results.

And while Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Thursday afternoon that all power generating plants in the state were back online, hundreds of thousands of homes remain without energy because of downed lines and other issues after a ferocious winter storm and cold snap, and more than 13 million Texans are still seeing interruptions in their water services.

In Texas, communities are desperately seeking warmth and other necessities without electricity in freezing or near-freezing temperatures.

Governor Greg Abbott was reassuring citizens he will get to the bottom of why so many people lost power this week as grid operators struggle to provide electricity.

“Texans deserve answers about why the shortfalls occurred, and how they’re going to be corrected and Texans will get those answers,” Abbott said.

In San Antonio, Claudia Lemus said power returned to her home Wednesday night — but many stores’ shelves were empty.

“We’re able to get enough to get by … but the grocery stores, most of them shut down,” Lemus told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Thursday morning. “And when we tried the few that are open, you have to stand in line for 20-30 minutes at a time, and then you just go in and get whatever is available, because stores are (largely) empty.”

Hospitals in Austin and Houston have been among those struggling with disruption to water supplies.

“We are working with our supply chain to provide water for our patients, staff and hospital operations. We began supplementing our onsite water inventory last week, and supplies are continuing to arrive,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St David’s HealthCare in Austin, in a statement.

“We continue to work with the City of Austin to resolve the water outage, but they have been unsuccessful in resolving the water system issue affecting service and water pressure to our hospital.”

Austin Water said its water treatment plants were stable on Wednesday, but it was still facing “significant challenges” in restoring water to customers.

Bad weather has helped knock out power to a further 480,000 customers in many other states, including Oregon, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, according to PowerOutage.us.

Texas officials say a deep freeze starting Sunday crippled utilities’ power generation, causing rolling blackouts or continuous outages. The issues affect a Texas-only grid that covers 90% of the state and is isolated from the rest of the country, so the grid cannot import power from elsewhere to make up for the shortage.

Days without power in freezing conditions have sent Texans scrambling for alternative heating, through generators, fireplaces, living in running cars, or sheltering in powered warming centres or businesses.

About 13 million people are facing water disruptions, with boil-water notices, broken pipes and failing systems, state officials said. Austin and San Antonio issued boil-water notices to their residents on Wednesday evening.

Firefighters at a large apartment blaze in San Antonio were having supply issues Thursday night. Hydrants were frozen and crews were having to go down the street to where they could get water for their trucks.