Millions of people are without heat and electricity during severe winter storms due to a Texas power outage.
Freezing temperatures, snow, and ice triggered a “catastrophic failure” of the state’s power grid, the Houston Chronicle reported, leaving more than 4 million people without power across the state in the midst of extremely cold temperatures. Natural gas shortages, frozen wind turbines, and people using more energy to heat their homes all contributed to the power outage.
Power companies scheduled rolling blackouts on Monday in an attempt to conserve energy. Officials now say those outages will likely last through Tuesday or beyond, NPR reported. The problem is that the severe winter weather and freezing temperatures have made it impossible for many power companies to generate power from gas, coal, or wind, Governor Greg Abbott explained in a press release on Monday, February 15.
If you are affected by the Texas power outage or know somebody who is, there are some basic safety tips to help minimize health risks right now. You should stay home and conserve energy, Abbot said. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ready.gov (a national emergency preparedness campaign) have a lot of guidance for staying safe during extremely cold weather and power outages, including how to safely operate generators and heat sources.
Here are some of their tips:
If you must go outside, be prepared. If you have to go outside, the CDC recommends you layer up, cover exposed areas and extremities, stay dry, and keep it quick.
Stay off the roads if possible. Icy roads, reduced visibility, and nonworking traffic lights can make driving dangerous. If you have to drive in an emergency, the CDC has a safety checklist that includes steps like taking your phone, letting someone know your plan, and bringing emergency supplies in case you are stranded (like extra warm clothing, blankets, a phone charger, a shovel, a windshield scraper, water, food, and a first-aid kit).
Use generators and heat-generating devices safely. These devices can produce deadly exhaust fumes that cause carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, even if you can’t smell them. The CDC says to keep generators dry and at least 20 feet away from any window, door, or vent. Plug appliances into the generator using heavy-duty outdoor extension cords. Make sure your CO detector is working to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. And never use generators, camp stoves, charcoal grills, gas grills, or similar appliances inside the house (including the basement or garage) or near windows, as the fumes can be deadly. (For more generator safety tips, check out this ready.gov page.)
Conserve heat. The CDC recommends keeping doors and windows closed, shutting the doors to rooms you are not using, using towels to fill in the gaps below doors, and closing drapes or blinds.
Light your home safely. Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns if you have them. If candles are all you have, don’t leave them unattended.
Prioritize keeping babies and older adults warm. Cold temperatures are more dangerous for these groups (babies lose body heat more easily, and elderly adults often produce less of their own body heat), the CDC explains. Dress babies in extra-warm clothing and avoid putting them to bed in a cold room, and check on elderly neighbors.
Keep water pipes flowing. To prevent water pipes from freezing or breaking in low temperatures, the CDC recommends turning all water faucets on just enough to allow a continuous drip, and keeping cabinet doors under sinks open to allow any warm air from the room to reach the pipes.
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