Posted 10 days ago
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for 77 Texas counties, the White House said Saturday morning, two days after Gov. Greg Abbott had asked for a declaration that covered all 254 counties coping with the effects of a winter storm that knocked out power and heat across the state.
The declaration covers much of the Texas population, including Dallas and neighboring counties, and the counties that include Houston, San Antonio and Austin, but falls far short of what Texas officials sought.
“This partial approval is an important first step,” Abbott said on Saturday.
Biden signed it late Friday, after telling reporters earlier that he would do so as soon as the Federal Emergency Management Agency put the request on his desk. The White House and FEMA offered no explanation for withholding the major disaster declaration from the rest of Texas.
“I thank President Biden for his assistance as we respond to impacts of winter weather across our state,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need. The funds provided under the Major Disaster Declaration may provide crucial assistance to Texans as they begin to repair their homes and address property damage.”
The declaration triggers individual and public assistance and hazard mitigation, and allows eligible Texans to apply for aid for broken pipes and other property damage from the winter storms.
“Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments,” the White House said.
According to PowerOutage.us, there were roughly 80,000 Texans without power as of Saturday morning, but millions remained without safe drinking water.
“I’m grateful to President Biden for his swift approval of this declaration,” he said. “While the worst of the weather is over, North Texas is still in a crisis and we’ll need all hands on deck to rebuild homes and small businesses, and repair critical infrastructure damaged by this storm.”
Abbott said Friday there are no longer any residential outages due to lack of power generation, though households remained without power because of downed power lines or the need for crews to manually restart local switches.
At the White House, Biden said Friday that he hopes to visit Texas sometime next week, though he didn’t specify where. Noting the security required for a presidential visit, he said, “what I don’t want to be is a burden.”
“This is an important first step to getting the resources necessary to help our state recover and rebuild,” said Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Houston, one of 13 Texas Democrats in Congress who jointly urged FEMA to approve the state’s request.
“Although we expect the extreme winter temperatures to wane, the long-term damage to our homes, businesses, municipal services and infrastructure, energy infrastructure, and agricultural and food systems cannot be overstated. Much of this damage will be exacerbated by a simultaneous economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that has already challenged local industries and governments,” they wrote Thursday.
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