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US President Joe Biden approves major disaster declaration for Texas

Saturday February 20, 2021 - 20:24 AEDT

US President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas after it suffered widespread power blackouts and water shortages during a deadly deep freeze.


Millions of residents in the United States' biggest oil and gas producing state have dealt with power outages, and nearly half of Texas residents on Friday had to endure disrupted water service.


The action makes federal funding available to individuals across the state, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.


Mr Biden has also been weighing a trip to Texas to survey the federal response to the first new crisis to develop since he took office a month ago.


The White House has been working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially acknowledge Mr Biden's November election win.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency has shipped dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets and ready-to-eat meals, to the affected areas.


All the state's power plants had returned to service, although more than 195,000 homes remained without electricity on Friday morning (local time), and residents of 160 of Texas' 254 counties had water service disruptions, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.


Early on Saturday (local time) Texas's 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 that buckled the state's power grid and caused widespread blackouts.


Smaller outages remained, but Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, says the grid now can provide power throughout the system.


On Friday the weather system was slowly moving north-east, where hardy New Englanders, who are far more used to scouring winter storms than residents of Texas ? were battening down.


The temperature on Friday rose above freezing in Texas, and the National Weather Service forecast weekend weather between 10?15 Celsius.


Biden to decide on Texas trip next week


At least 69 deaths across the US have been blamed on the blast of unseasonable weather.


Mr Biden came into office on January 20 promising to tackle a series of brewing crises, starting with the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy.


He tacked on systemic racism and climate change as top priorities, and now he's contending with storms that have not only imperilled Americans but also delayed the shipment and administration of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines.


Mr Biden said he hoped to travel to Texas next week but did not want his presence and the accompanying presidential entourage to distract from the recovery.


"They're working like the devil to take care of their folks," Mr Biden said of Texas officials.


He said he would make a decision early next week about travel.


Mr Biden had already declared states of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, adding the disaster designation for Texas on Saturday (local time).


ABC/Wires







- ABC, Reuters, AP

© ABC, Reuters, AP 2021

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