US President Joe Biden has asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to address the suffering in Texas, where record-setting cold weather has killed dozens and brought on a multitude of hardships for millions of residents.
US President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, which has suffered widespread power blackouts and water shortages during a deadly deep freeze, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Millions of residents in the United States' biggest oil and gas producer have dealt with power outages, and nearly half of Texas' residents on Friday had to endure disrupted water service. Nearly two dozen deaths have been attributed to the storm and a frigid snap.
The action on Saturday makes federal funding available to individuals across the state, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.
Record-setting cold weather has cut water and grid energy supplies. Electricity and water services were resuming, but many homes and some hospitals still did not have either on Friday.
Half the state's population was under a "must-boil" order to ensure water is safe.
"We're overwhelmed, way more than we've been with Covid," said Kathuria, who works in several Austin-area emergency rooms. "This system failure has completely rocked us in our ERs, and in our own homes."
Many hospital staffers have stayed in the medical facilities all week - knowing there was no heat or water at home. At least hospitals have generators for basic electricity. Some had water hauled in to fill tanks or hired water tankers. Others had running but not portable water.
Doctors in Austin, Houston and the Dallas area called the lack of water their biggest problem. Dialysis machines do not work without water, surgery equipment cannot be sterilized, and hands cannot be washed.
Dr Neil Gandhi, an emergency room physician and the regional medical director for the ER departments at Houston Methodist's seven hospitals in the area, said those facilities were at 90 percent operating capacity by Friday afternoon. Earlier in the week, two were able to take only emergency patients, Gandhi added.
Ambulances struggled to reach people on roads that were not cleared because Texas cities have few snow plows and not nearly enough salt on hand. Doctors in stand-alone emergency care locations who routinely call the 911 emergency number for ambulances to transfer patients to hospitals had to wait more than nine hours for any to arrive, if they were available at all.
White House response
The White House is working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially acknowledge Biden's November election win.
Biden said on Friday that he hopes to travel to Texas next week but doesn't 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,” Biden said of Texas officials. He said he'd make a decision early next week about travel.
All the state's power plants had returned to service, although more than 195,000 homes remained without electricity on Friday morning, and residents of 160 of Texas' 254 counties had water service disruptions, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.