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In storm-ravaged Texas, ‘a lot of black eyes’ among state leadership

Temperatures in Texas have warmed up considerably as experts try to determine just how many deaths in the state were tied to last week's winter storm. But as recovery efforts continue, the fallout is just beginning. Alana Rocha, a multimedia journalist with The Texas Tribune, joins Stephanie Sy for a deeper look at the cascade of issues facing Texans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the impact in Texas of last week's storms, power outages and water shortages. Temperatures have warmed up considerably. Experts are still trying to determine just how many deaths in the state were tied to the storm and what came afterward.

    As the Lone Star State continues to recover, the fallout of the winter storm is far from over.

    Stephanie Sy has our report.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Texas, finally, a little relief from the frigid temperatures that resulted in a statewide electrical grid failure. Temperatures today in major cities like Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio hit above 65 degrees.

    But across the state, Texans continue to struggle with the lingering impacts of the winter storm that, at its peak, left 4.5 million customers without power.

    Elda Gamero lives in a mobile home with her two daughters, 4-year-old Belen (ph), and 14-year-old Kendy, who helped interpret for mom.

  • Kendy Cosenza:

    "We took her to the car to keep her warm with the car heater. She's — my 4-year-old daughter started to cry in the car and said, 'Mom, please, I don't want to go inside the house. It's too cold.'"

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The inside of their mobile home was colder than outside. Power only came back yesterday. They still lack hot water.

  • Kendy Cosenza:

    We prayed to God. Every night, we said, God, thank you for keeping us alive. Sunday morning, power back and the water. We were grateful to God, because we got our home back.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    What's more, residents have reported astronomical spikes in electric bills, some skyrocketing thousands of dollars, a result, in large part, due to the state's unregulated energy market.

    Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spoke to reporters today.

  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick:

    We're going to find a solution to that problem. I don't know what that solution is today, but I don't want panic out there.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Over the weekend, residents who were able to make it to grocery stores were met with empty shelves. The severe weather disrupted the state's food supply, leaving many families hungry.

    Texans are still lining up for bottled water. As of this morning, 8.8 million residents remained under water-boil advisories and roughly 120,000 had no running water at all.

    For a deeper look at the litany of issues facing Texans and the resulting political fallout, I'm joined by Alana Rocha. She is a multimedia journalist with The Texas Tribune, and joins me from Austin.

    Alana, thank you so much for joining us.

    I know that you have been talking to a lot of Texas residents, some of whom still can't get basic essentials, get food from the grocery store, hot water. Tell me what everybody is still going through there in Texas and what they're feeling.

  • Alana Rocha:

    Just before I spoke with you, I got a text message saying that I think my boil-water notice had been lifted here in South Austin. But a lot of people don't know if their water is safe to drink.

    There's still food shelves, as you just showed, that are empty. I have a husband currently going around town trying to find our 18-month-old some milk. H-E-B and the other grocery stores are assuring are assuring people that trucks are coming in and trying to restock.

    But, yes, this is months on end after the pandemic where, again, we're almost at the start of the pandemic as of last year, where people again are not able to find basic essentials, and they're waiting for safe water.

    Most homes are now restored as far as power goes, but, of course, the next thing people are nervous about is, what kind of bills are they going to get for that energy they have been burning?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Are people calling for political accountability? What has the political fallout been?

  • Alana Rocha:

    Well, you saw the governor in the beginning call for resignations at the company that manages the power grid, as well as investigations into this all. You have also seen the attorney general issue statement along those lines that they were looking into investigating exactly what happened, why the grid went down.

    The rolling blackouts turned into days-long blackouts for many people here in Texas. And so, again, yes, you are calling for resignations. You're also calling for a lot of lawmakers under a fine eye. Of course, you saw U.S. Senator Ted Cruz travel to Cancun and get a lot of backlash for leaving a cold house in Houston to take his daughters across the border.

    Attorney General Paxton today and his wife, state Senator Angela Paxton, we also learned today, were in Utah last week. So, a lot of black eyes right now on the state leadership, and looking to point the finger elsewhere and figure out what happened and what they can do to rectify it fast.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And Texas — one of the sources of pride, from what I understand, for Texas is the fossil fuel industry and is the sense of energy independence.

    Do you think that's going to change that conversation in light of the last week?

  • Alana Rocha:

    It is unclear.

    I think the deregulation will change, as far as going the other direction. But as far as going under federal oversight or things like that, you have seen former longtime Governor here Rick Perry, former energy secretary, say Texas can weather a few days in the dark — of course, it was more dire for a lot of Texans than just sitting in the dark — but rather than going under federal oversight.

    But you have every agency here that even touches fossil fuel or the energy industry looking into this and seeing what they can do, maybe even outside of the lawmakers, within their own authorities, to enact changes fast.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It was much more than Texans being in the dark.

    I spoke to people today who were worried their children were going to freeze in their mobile homes. There were also a delay on vaccinations. We are in the midst of a pandemic still.

    Can you talk about you ho the winter storm affected the vaccination campaign there and how the state plans to catch up?

  • Alana Rocha:

    Yes, our health reporter was all over that last week, one of them.

    And she reported that, because trucks couldn't get in and shipments couldn't be delivered, that we were expected to get 600,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses that didn't come in last week. We were supposed to inoculate another million people or at least give that many shots. And that all didn't happen.

    So, yes, you see them making up. People were even getting their second doses yesterday, over the weekend, to try and make up for that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Alana Rocha with The Texas Tribune.

    You all have been doing some stellar reporting there. I'm so grateful for you coming on the "NewsHour." Thank you very much.

  • Alana Rocha:

    Thanks for having me.

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