Texans running low on oxygen, energy company can't say when power will be back amid brutal storm

About 7 million people in Texas were told to boil their water or stop using it entirely.

At least 10 people have died and countless others are facing life-threatening conditions as Texans prepared to enter day four of frigid weather without heat and power

A growing concern is for those people in the storm's path with serious health conditions.  "That’s concerning not only for temperature but also for people who are on oxygen or do need electronic devices for their health," said Comfort Homes Director of Operations Kasey Breidenthal, according to KTAB, the CBS affiliated TV station in Abilene, Texas 

In the Dallas suburb of Richardson, a woman who relies on an oxygen machine had to be taken to a local hospital and then a dialysis center where the machine was charged, the Texas Tribune reported.

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Conversely, carbon monoxide poisoning has become a major health concern. At least two deaths have been reported and in Houston alone, Texas' largest city has seen  300 carbon monoxide poisoning cases, according to the Houston Chronicle.  The rise in cases has come about from people trying to stay warm in running cars in garages, BBQ pits and generators used indoors. 

The power problems have also impacted water pressure levels across The Lone Star State. An estimated 7 million people were told to boil their water or stop using it entirely as homeowners, hospitals, and businesses grappled with low pressure, broken water mains and burst pipes. 

South of Austin, in the city of Kyle, residents were asked Wednesday to suspend water usage until further notice because of a shortage as disruptions to water systems also hit Houston, Fort Worth, Galveston and Corpus Christi.

As the state struggles for warmth and survival, lawmakers locally and nationally directed anger at the state's Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which according to its web site "manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers -- representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load."

Gov. Gregg Abbott served notice of a pending investigation. 

Bill Magness, the CEO of ERCOT attempted to explain the reason for his agency's actions in an interview with KEYE, the CBS affiliate in Austin.

"These outages, while they’re extremely difficult, and we’re trying to get them to end and get power back to people as fast as we can, are a controlled method of making sure we don’t lose the system, to make sure we don’t have a much bigger catastrophic event on the system," said Magness 

The under-fire executive expressed empathy for his fellow Texans. "Having to live without power during these kinds of conditions is horrible, absolutely." Still, he stressed that if not for the outages, the state could be facing a larger crisis.

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. 

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston.  (AP)

"The catastrophic outcome I’m talking about is if we had let the system go into a stage where a blackout would happen, we wouldn’t be talking about when are we going to restore the power, when are we going to turn it back on," said Magness. "We would be talking about rebuilding portions of the electric system. We wouldn’t be able to do this in days.

Magness was not able to say definitively when the power would resume, but he hoped many customers would see at least partial service restored by later Wednesday or Thursday.

More than 3 million homes and businesses were remaining without power for the third day of a historic winter storm that is pummeling the state.

"Our number one priority is getting the power back on for as many people as we can, but we have to do it in a safe way and reliable way that keeps the system intact, so we can use it in the future,"  Magness said.

ERCOT tweeted early Wednesday it had restored power to 600,000 households, while 2.7 million still do not have power.

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In Austin, hundreds braved the cold on Wednesday to stock up on food, creating empty shelves and long lines, KTBC, the Fox-affiliated TV station in Austin reported

People wait in line to purchase groceries Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston.

People wait in line to purchase groceries Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. (AP)

"There's really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.

More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

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Scientists say the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, is increasingly spilling into lower latitudes and sticking around longer. The winter storm has poured into neighboring states and even Mexico. Utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity.

Texas has borne the brunt of the worst U.S. power outages. Officials have requested 60 generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and planned to prioritize hospitals and nursing homes. The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.

But even amidst the suffering and bitter cold, kindness and warmth managed to find a way to the frozen parts of the south and southwest. 

In Memphis, Tennessee, and Shreveport, Louisiana, city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals for patients and staff, KSLA, the CBS TV station in Shreveport reported 

 In San Antonio, police officers have been dispatched to help residents without power or food. 

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And a helping hand was given to mother nature. 

Along the Gulf of Mexico, volunteers have rescued some 4,500 sea turtles from frigid waters this week, the Fox-owned TV station, WTXF, reported. Experts told the outlet the turtles became "cold-stunned" when the water dropped to around 50 degrees. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.