Deaths mount, millions still without power amid new snow, ice storm

In Pictures: Subfreezing cold sweeps through Texas

In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from auto exhaust in their garage; another perished after flames spread from their fireplace. This is a weather pattern that usually keeps to the arctic but is increasingly visiting lower latitudes and staying beyond its welcome.

Hardest hit was Texas, where freezing conditions prompted utility companies to implement rotating blackouts to stop the power grid being overloaded by the surge in demand. More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another quarter-million were still without electricity following an ice storm in northwest OR, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.

As the storm continues sweeping across the state, some areas have seen heavy snowfalls, perilous ice and record low temperatures.

Authorities in multiple states reported deaths in crashes on icy roads, including two people whose vehicle slid off a road and overturned in a waterway in Kentucky on Sunday, state police said.

The National Weather Service was "very surprised how rapidly this storm intensified ... and at the time of night when most people are at home and in bed, it creates a very unsafe situation", Emergency Services Director Ed Conrow said. The weather also threatened to affect the nation's COVID-19 vaccination effort.

In North Texas, energy provider Oncor said power outages in the region, previously expected to last just 45 minutes, will be "significantly extended" and told customers to be prepared to be without power for awhile. He said state agencies are sending additional resources and personnel to help local officials clear roadways and to assist essential workers.

Texas' power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night but that 2.7 million households were still without power.

Officials say a frigid blast of winter weather across the United States is likely to blame for the deaths of two people in Texas as temperatures dropped into the single digits Fahrenheit (-22C), and snow shut down air travel and grocery stores.

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The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities across 14 states, called for rolling outages because the supply of reserve energy had been exhausted.

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed those who had lost power during a live interview on Wednesday on NBC's Today programme.

The situation in Texas drew attention at the International Energy Forum on Wednesday, including messages of support from Saudi Arabia's energy minister and Opec secretary general Mohammed Barkindo.

"As the extreme weather in Texas has shown, we can not take energy security for granted, even in a country like the United States", Barkindo said at the forum, which was held virtually. By midmorning, 3,000 flights had been canceled across the country, more than half of them in Texas.

Many school systems have delayed or cancelled face-to-face classes.

But even staying home can be hazardous in places without power. In Oregon, authorities confirmed Tuesday that four people died in the Portland area of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Four died in Monterrey, three of them homeless people who succumbed to exposure and one person who died at home from carbon monoxide poisoning from a heater.

"We're living through a really historic event going on right now", said Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, pointing to all of Texas under a winter storm warning and the extent of the freezing temperatures.

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