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US Biden heads to Texas to survey damage from paralyzing winter storm

14:38  26 february  2021
14:38  26 february  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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By Jarrett Renshaw

a man sitting in a room: FILE PHOTO: Local residents take shelter after record-breaking temperatures in Galveston, Texas © Reuters/ADREES LATIF FILE PHOTO: Local residents take shelter after record-breaking temperatures in Galveston, Texas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden will visit Texas on Friday as the state works to recover from a devastating winter storm that caused serious damage to homes and businesses, left millions without power or clean water for days, and killed at least two dozen.

Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, will travel to Houston, where he will meet with officials, including Republican Governor Greg Abbott, to discuss the recovery from last week’s storm. He will also visit a COVID-19 health center where vaccines are being distributed.

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a person riding a snowboard down a snow covered slope: FILE PHOTO: A man walks to his friend's home in a neighbourhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville © Reuters/USA Today Sports FILE PHOTO: A man walks to his friend's home in a neighbourhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville

The president will bring empathy and pledges of financial help from Washington, but no lectures about the dangers of underregulation or calls for the federal government to monitor the state's power grid.

"There’s plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations, and I’m sure that’s one that will be had. But right now, we’re focused on getting relief to the people in the state," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

The disaster has been a test of Biden's pledge to work for all Americans to help unify the country. Abbott initially did not recognize the Democrat's November election victory over Republican President Donald Trump. Texas state officials lost a court bid in December to overturn the results, which Trump has falsely claimed were tainted by widespread fraud.

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a close up of a light pole: FILE PHOTO: Workers install a utility pole to support power lines after an unprecedented winter storm in Houston, Texas © Reuters/ADREES LATIF FILE PHOTO: Workers install a utility pole to support power lines after an unprecedented winter storm in Houston, Texas

For 10 days this month, Texas was hit by an unusually prolonged period of very low temperatures. Electricity consumption surged, while many generating units failed to start up owing to frozen instrumentation, iced turbine blades and insufficient fuel supplies.

The state's Republican leaders have come under fire for not heeding warnings that the state's power grid needed significant upgrades to defend against deep freezes.

While much of the rest of the United States features electricity systems that are interconnected, allowing power to cross state lines, Texas has long stood out for having its own grid.

Last week, Abbott asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for all of the state's 254 counties. Biden initially signed off on a declaration for 77 counties, adding 31 more on Monday and signaling he was open to increasing the number.

The declaration authorizes FEMA to provide grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners.

Biden delayed a visit to the state to avoid hampering efforts to save people from the storm's damage.

"Now we're at the recovery stage where we need to make sure people have access to clean water, access to places to live and to stay. And so the president wants to survey the damage so he can tap into all the resources of the federal government," Psaki said on "The View" TV program on Thursday.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)

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