Utility crews were working against time Wednesday to restore power to nearly 3.4 million customers in the U.S. who were still without power or heat after a deadly winter storm, while another blast of ice and snow threatens with sowing more chaos.
Authorities expect the new storm to complicate recovery efforts, especially in states not used to such frigid weather: parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.
The forecast is that the system will move northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather alert or advisory, the weather service said.
This week’s extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of more than 30 people, some of whom perished while struggling to stay warm inside their homes. In the Houston area, a family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage. Another family died while using a fireplace to keep warm.
Weather-related outages have been particularly persistent in Oregon, where some customers have been without power for nearly a week.
Record low temperatures were recorded in city after city. Scientists say that a polar vortex, a weather pattern that generally persists in the Arctic, is increasingly spreading to lower latitudes and staying there longer, and human-caused global warming is partly responsible.
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented a continuous blackout program to ease the load on power grids struggling to meet extreme demand for heat and power.
The worst power outages in the United States have occurred in Texas, where 3 million homes and businesses were still without power as of noon Wednesday. The chairman of the state’s power grid management board, the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, said he expected many customers to see service at least partially restored by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
More than 200,000 additional customers were in the dark in four Appalachian states, and nearly the same number in the Pacific Northwest, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks reports of utility outages.
The outages in and around Portland affected nearly 150,000 customers nearly a week after a massive snow and ice storm downed many trees and destroyed hundreds of miles of power lines.
The damage to the electrical system was the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric. At the peak of the storm, more than 350,000 customers in the Portland area were in the dark.
(With images and information from AFP, Reuters and AP)