More than 4.2 million people in Texas without power after winter storm

Local authorities say record low temperatures caused too much strain on the state’s power grid

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Miranda Olsen is wearing two pairs of trousers, boots, two sweaters, a hat, a robe and a blanket as she tries to stay warm inside her apartment in Cyprus, Texas. Outside, the temperature is minus 8°C, while the electric thermostat on her wall would read 4°C – not that she would know.

Ms Olsen, 27, and her partner, Evan Pias, have been without power since 2am on Sunday. Their internet is down and they have been receiving updates about what is happening from Evan's mother, who lives about 2,900 kilometres away in Connecticut.

A winter storm bludgeoned the central and southern US at the weekend, blanketing areas in snow and ice and bringing freezing temperatures to places unaccustomed to cold weather.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 4.2 million people in Texas were without power – a shocking number in a state that is home to the energy capital of the country.

The need to keep warm in the face of record cold caused residents to put too much strain on the state's power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas urged customers to conserve power.

“The number of controlled outages we have to do remains high. We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day,” the group said.

At least 20 people have died since the chill started sweeping through the US last week. In the Houston area, at least seven people died from fires or carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to stay warm, local media reported.

President Joe Biden this week issued a state of emergency for Texas. It allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to start helping local and state agencies respond to the storm.

"Specifically, Fema is authorised to identify, mobilise and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures for mass care and sheltering and direct federal assistance will be provided at 75 per cent federal funding," the White House said.

'It’s ridiculous. It’s a first-world country’

Alisar Serhan lives in Houston with her husband. They are fortunate to have a fireplace and lots of wood.

“It got really cold because there was no heating and we had to go downstairs, and luckily we have a fireplace, so we put on a fire and we turned on the gas stove to try to warm up the downstairs area of the house,” Ms Serhan said.

The Lebanese citizen only recently moved to Houston. So far, she is unimpressed with how the state is handling the storm.

She said that even in Lebanon, a country that experiences daily power cuts, the situation was never this bad.

“We’ve never been without power for more than 24 hours and it’s ridiculous. Nobody is being helpful, nobody is trying to take action and correct the situation. It’s ridiculous,” she said.

"It's a first-world country. Twenty-four-hour electricity is like the minimum of what you can get, but it's been out for two days."

Ms Serhan said she and her husband had enough food to survive for days, but she was worried about her neighbour next door.

“Our neighbour, and her mum is 101 years old, and she needs to be on oxygen all the time,” she said.

“She has electricity, but if it cuts off, she doesn’t have a back-up generator, so she’d have to go to the hospital, but the roads aren’t equipped for anybody to drive on. It’s really dangerous.”

Ms Olsen and Mr Pias hope the power returns soon but they are not optimistic. They have no fireplace and their oven is electric, so they have no way of cooking food.

They are currently living off snacks and canned goods and have resorted to using the only heat source they could find in their apartment.

“We have condensed all the candles to one room and shut the door and tried to use that as an extra heat source,” Ms Olsen said.

The pair are bracing for what could be a long week. The first storm may have passed but another is expected to hit Texas and other parts of the south on Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

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