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Top Houston-area official: 'We're seeing ... the winter version of Hurricane Harvey'

Top Houston-area official: 'We're seeing ... the winter version of Hurricane Harvey'
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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Tuesday that the Houston area is seeing “the winter version of Hurricane Harvey” with a severe winter storm piling up snow and knocking out power across Texas. 

Hidalgo told CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” that her county is experiencing a “incredibly tragic” and “nightmare situation” with millions of people spending another night without power in freezing temperatures. 

“We’re seeing, basically, the winter version of Hurricane Harvey,” she said. “It’s obviously not the same thing but when you look at the scale you can have relatively similar scope.”

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“People are dying,” she continued. "People are dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, from exposure to the elements. We have a lot of accidents.”

The county judge called it “unbelievable” that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) “was so unprepared for what we’re” seeing. The grid operator for a majority of the state ordered utility companies to rotate power, starting on Monday, in order to meet the high demand for electricity during the storm and low temperatures. 

More than 4 million Texans had been without power on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday morning that number has dropped to 2.8 million, according to poweroutage.us.  

“The challenge is I can’t tell my residents that the power is going to come back anytime soon because the state agency does not have any clear plan as to when exactly they will have that generation, that production back up,” Hidalgo said. “Every estimate they’ve given us has been overly optimistic. So I’m pushing for them to give it to us straight and to get this back up and running.”

Hidalgo reported that more than a dozen people in Texas have died in storm-related incidents, including carbon monoxide poisoning during attempts to stay warm with the power outages. She said there have been more than 300 calls about carbon monoxide poisoning incidents in the county, and officials “fear it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

“Folks were ready to hunker down because they knew the weather was coming,” she said. “They did not expect this inability of the state grid to keep up.”

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“But a lot of this is a man-made disaster because of that state agency and there’s going to be a lot of questions once this is over to figure out what went wrong,” the county judge added. 

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called on the state legislature on Tuesday to investigate the shortcomings of the ERCOT response to prioritize reform.

Hidalgo had warned last week that the winter weather could “be as serious as a Cat 5 Hurricane.”