The City of Houston has begun emerging from the grips of an unprecedented winter storm.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday that electricity had been restored to many residents who had gone without it, in some cases for a day or more, with the city having endured rolling outages since early Monday. He also said the pressure in the city's main water system had improved since Wednesday, although Houston residents remain under a boil water notice.
"Things are improving, but we still have a ways to go," Turner said.
Turner said the boil water notice, under which residents are advised to boil tap water for at least two minutes before using it for consumption or cooking, could remain in effect through the weekend.
In addition to coping with power outages, low water pressure and in some cases a lack of running water, residents of the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas - along with the rest of the region - also are dealing with burst water pipes as temperatures rise above freezing during the daytime and then dip back below freezing at night.
Turner, who lives in Acres Homes, said Wednesday he is among the Houstonians who have had pipes burst at their homes. He said the city is in the process of setting up a fund to assist homeowners, particularly those who are elderly or in low-income neighborhoods, with repairing damage caused by the prolonged winter storm.
Carol Haddock, the director of Houston Public Works, asked residents who have not had their pipes freeze to shut off their water and drain their pipes before going to bed Thursday night. She said doing so would help prevent pipes from bursting and allow the city to continue building pressure in its water system.
"We're going to rely on every one of you Houstonians to make this happen," Haddock said of restoring water pressure. "Make sure you minimize your water use. Use water only for truly critical functions."
Those without power, or running water, have been advised to use bottled water for consumption, but increasing demand for it has put a strain on supply and local grocery stores also have coped with power outages and are operating under limited hours.
The city said in a Thursday night news release that nearly 109,000 bottles of water were distributed earlier in the day through coordinated efforts by the 11 Houston City Council members who represent districts. District C council member Abbie Kamin held four distribution events, including at the Heights Fire Station at 107 W. 12th St. and the Harriet and Joe Foster Family YMCA at 1234 W. 34th St., while District A council member Amy Peck held an area distribution event at the White Oak Conference Center at 7603 Antoine Dr.
The city scheduled a mass water distribution for 11:30 a.m. Friday at Houston ISD's Delmar Stadium at 2020 Mangum Rd.
"We want to establish sites throughout the city that will be accessible to a lot of individuals," Turner said.
Turner said Houstonians with disabilities who need bottled water but are unable to travel to a distribution site can request to have it delivered to them at crowdsourcerescue.org/freeze.
The Foster Family YMCA in Garden Oaks also served as a community warming center on Wednesday and Thursday.
The city and Harris County's COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, including the city's mass vaccination site at Delmar Stadium, were closed through Thursday. The Houston Health Department said it planned to resume vaccinations Saturday, while Harris County Public Health was set to resume testing and vaccinations on Friday.
All HISD campuses and offices are closed through Friday.
Turner said he spoke Thursday morning with an executive for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and was told the agency had given the "green light" to local energy providers to restore power to all customers who had lost it, with some exceptions because of damages to infrastructure. But Turner said there could still be some outages related to a surge of power generation coming onto the electricity grid.
Kenny Mercado, a senior vice president for CenterPoint Energy, said there were about 40,000 Houston-area customers without power as of late Thursday morning. A day earlier, he said there were 1.37 million residents of the region who were without electricity.
"We're not done yet, but we've come a long ways in the last 24 hours," Mercado said. "We won't stop until we get every single customer back on."