U.S. President Joe Biden visits the state of Texas on Friday to survey the extensive damage caused by a severe winter storm that triggered power outages and the loss of drinking water to millions of homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit a food bank in Houston, the largest city in Texas. They will also tour an emergency operations center before the president delivers remarks at a Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 vaccination facility housed in a local stadium.
At least 40 people in Texas were killed in a severe winter storm that swept across southern U.S. states in mid-February. Texas was hardest hit by the unusually cold temperatures that triggered widespread power outages and caused frozen water pipes to burst, flooding homes and leaving many without heat and running water.
Temperatures in the region are returning to normal, but more than 1 million Texas residents are still under orders to boil water before drinking it.
Biden has issued disaster declarations in 108 of the state’s 254 counties and signaled he may increase the number. Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked Biden last week to issue disaster declarations in all counties.
Biden, a Democrat, will be accompanied by the Republican governor, who initially did not recognize his November presidential victory over Donald Trump, as he meets with local leaders and volunteers to discuss the storm and relief and recovery efforts.
The declarations authorize FEMA to provide funding for temporary housing, home repairs, and low interest loans for uninsured property losses. The action also frees up funding to help distressed individuals and businesses owners.
During the visit, Biden’s first to a disaster site since taking office nearly six weeks ago, he also plans to encourage people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to help contain the pandemic that has killed more than 508,000 people in the United States.
The disaster, coupled with the coronavirus crisis, poses a test to Biden’s promise to unify the country by working for all segments of American society.
The White House said Biden will bring empathy and assurances of federal financial help to Texas but will refrain from lecturing about the perils of the state’s lack of regulation of its power grid.