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Millions of Texans wake up without safe drinking water after winter storm

"The impact from this devastating crisis will be felt for days," one official said.
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Millions of Texans were waking up without safe drinking water Monday as state officials sought to ramp up bottled water distribution and calm residents whose electricity bills have spiked after a severe winter storm battered the state.

As of 8 a.m. ET, nearly 8.8 million people were still under boil water notices, which were issued after days of record low temperatures damaged the state's water infrastructure, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in an email to NBC News.

It's a drop from 10 million people who did not have safe drinking water on Sunday.

The commission said 260 boil water notices across the state have been rescinded as of Monday morning, but 120,000 people still had no water service at all.

Image: Volunteers give water to residents affectred by  unprecedented winter storm in Houston, Texas
Volunteer Elizabeth Murray helps hand water to local residents at Butler Stadium in Houston on Sunday.Adrees Latif / Reuters

Texas is bringing in more plumbers, who are in high demand, to repair damaged water systems, Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday. Homeowners who do not have insurance may qualify for a reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Abbott said.

Nearly 3.5 million bottles of water had been distributed by helicopter, airplane and truck across the state, according to the governor.

Sprawling lines could be seen at distribution sites in some parts of Texas. Vanessa Fuentes, an Austin City Council member, posted a video showing dozens of cars outside a soccer complex south of downtown Austin.

Nearly 700 cases were given out before the event even began at 11 a.m., she said, and at another site, vehicles began lining up five hours before distribution started.

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"The impact from this devastating crisis will be felt for days," she tweeted.

In Houston, officials said a boil-water notice that had been in place since Wednesday was lifted after tests found that the city's tap water met regulatory standards, while about a third of San Antonio's 1.5 million people remained under a boil-water notice, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Toby Baker, said.

San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg said Sunday nearly 2.1 million water bottles have been distributed citywide.

The boil water notice was also partially lifted in Austin on Monday.

Abbott said customers whose electricity bills soared after huge parts of the state lost power last week — and demand surged in Texas' market-based system — would be shielded from "unreasonable" bills.

In some cases, the bills have topped $10,000.

Disconnections over nonpayments will be halted, he said, adding that he met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Saturday who agreed to fast-track legislation.

"Texans who have suffered through days of freezing cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market." Abbott said.

Texas was set to get a break from the bitter cold. Gradual warming early this week will bring highs near average for February across the country as the storm system northeast.

President Joe Biden has signed a major disaster declaration making federal funding available to counties hit hard by last week's storm. More than 4 million customers lost power, and at least 22 people have died in connection with the winter weather.