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US: Texans stuck with $5,000 electric bills after winter storm need help, officials says

Winter storms devastate US after a year of Covid lockdown -- and it's nowhere near over

  Winter storms devastate US after a year of Covid lockdown -- and it's nowhere near over There is no fine time for a devastating barrage of winter storms, but it's hard to imagine the weather icing over much of the United States coming at a less opportune moment. © THOMAS SHEA/AFP/Getty Images Customers wait in line to enter Frontier Fiesta on February 17, 2021 in Houston, Texas. - A winter storm has caused rolling black-outs through out the Houston and the surrounding areas for the past 48 hours.

By Linda So and Jonathan Allen

a traffic light is lit up at night: FILE PHOTO: A car idles in a driveway on Jordan Drive, a street with no power in the early morning in Corpus Christi © Reuters/Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times FILE PHOTO: A car idles in a driveway on Jordan Drive, a street with no power in the early morning in Corpus Christi

(Reuters) - The mayors of two of the largest cities in Texas said the state should help pay some of the eye-watering electricity bills sent to residents after the devastating and deadly winter storm that caused widespread blackouts.

Texas has a highly unusual deregulated energy market that allows consumers to choose between scores of competing electricity providers.

Some providers sell electricity at wholesale prices that rise in sync with demand, which skyrocketed as a record-breaking freeze gripped a state unaccustomed to extreme cold, killing at least two dozen people and knocking out power to more than 4 million people at its peak.

Millions in Texas scramble for drinking water after devastating winter storm

  Millions in Texas scramble for drinking water after devastating winter storm A historic winter storm that knocked out power and froze pipes across Texas has left many families scrambling for safe drinking water. More than 1,100 public water supply systems reported weather-related disruptions in service on Friday morning, impacting over 14.4 million people, about half of the state's population. Many of those affected remain under a boil-water advisory due to concerns about potential contamination, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As a result, some Texans who were still able to turn on lights or keep their fridge running found themselves with bills of $5,000 or more for only five days of usage, according to photos of invoices posted on social media by angry consumers.

The Dallas Morning News said one provider offering a wholesale tariff plan had urged its thousands of customers to switch suppliers ahead of the storm to avoid high prices, but many found it would take too long to change their provider.

"The bill should go to the state of Texas," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an interview with CBS News on Sunday. "When they're getting these exorbitant electricity bills and they're having to pay for their homes, repair their homes, they should not have to bear the responsibility."

Bitter Texas freeze hits most vulnerable hardest

  Bitter Texas freeze hits most vulnerable hardest The winter weather across Texas has devastated the communities most vulnerable, as people grapple with the challenges of COVID-19 and historic freezing temperatures. After living this way on and off for nearly 20 years, she figured the hand-spun yarn blankets she makes would offer enough warmth through Texas' mostly mild winter.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told CBS both the state and the federal government should be expected to help with the bills.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott called an emergency meeting of state lawmakers on Saturday to discuss the problem, saying in a statement that they had a responsibility to ensure Texans "do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills."

Separately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued civil investigative demands to power companies regarding the outages, their emergency plans and pricing, saying that the companies "grossly mishandled" the weather emergency.

U.S. President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas on Saturday that makes federal funding available to people harmed by the storm, including assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans.

All power plants were back online this weekend and power had been restored to most homes as the weather returned to normal, but concerns still remained about water supplies, with millions of Texans being advised to boil water before using.

(Reporting by Linda So in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Opinion: What's happening in Texas and Mississippi has to stop .
Peniel Joseph says the winter storm aftermath in Texas and Mississippi that has disproportionately hit Black and Latinx communities and left many still without access to clean water is one facet of a decades-long national crisis of race and democracy.The historic winter storm that crippled Texas during the third week of February spotlighted the Lone Star State's pervasive history of structural racism. Similarly, it revealed how seemingly universal crises, such as climate change and catastrophes sometimes referred to as "acts of God" affect some communities much more severely than others.

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