US Senator Ted Cruz has flown into a storm of criticism after leaving his home state of Texas in the grips of a deadly deep freeze, for a family jaunt to the Mexican resort city of Cancun.
After his travels were reported, the 50-year-old Republican lawmaker prepared to board a flight home while his Senate office issued a statement saying he was continuing to work for his constituents.
“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Senator Cruz said on Thursday.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
Senator Cruz, who ran for president in 2016 and is viewed as a presidential hopeful in 2024, faced calls for his resignation from Democrats after photos emerged on social media showing him in an airport line, in a passenger lounge, aboard a plane and departing an airport in Mexico.
“Resign,” the Texas Democratic Party tweeted.
“Cruz is emblematic of what the Texas Republican Party and its leaders have become: Weak, corrupt, inept, and self-serving politicians who don’t give a damn about the people they were elected to represent,” it said.
Some critics on social media accused Senator Cruz of blaming his daughters for his decision to visit a resort.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking before the senator was spotted at Cancun airport, said tongue-in-cheek: “I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House.”
Millions of Texans have been paralysed by power and water outages after the state’s worst winter storm in decades.
Hundreds of thousands of homes have had no heat for days as state leaders came under mounting criticism for their response to the winter storm.
Nearly two dozen deaths have been attributed to the cold snap. Officials say they suspect many more people have died but their bodies have not been discovered yet.
The crisis facing the US’s second-largest state looked set to continue, with millions of people still without access to water, many struggling to find food, and freezing temperatures expected to last until at least Saturday (local time).
Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which takes in Houston, said the number of homes without power in her county had fallen to 33,000 from 1.4 million a few nights ago.
“It’s definitely a big positive that the power is back on for most of the residents,” Judge Hidalgo said.
“It’s been a miserable few days, a really tragic few days.”
She warned a “hard freeze” on Thursday night could cause setbacks and encouraged donations to food banks with some residents struggling to secure food and water.
The lack of power has cut off water to millions, further strained hospitals’ ability to treat patients amid a pandemic, and isolated vulnerable communities with frozen roads still impassable in parts of the state.
As of Thursday morning, 154 of the 254 counties in Texas had reported disruptions in water service, affecting 13.2 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Many of those affected have been told they need to boil their water.
Nearly 500,000 Texas households remain without power, down from about 2.7 million on Wednesday, according to poweroutage.com, a website that tracks outages.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a co-operative responsible for 90 per cent of the state’s electricity, said on Thursday it made “significant progress” in restoring power. It did not provide detailed figures.
Angry residents have trained much of their ire on ERCOT, which critics say did not heed warnings after a cold-weather meltdown in 2011 to ensure that Texas’ energy infrastructure, which relies primarily on natural gas, was made winter-resistant.
Critics have also raised questions about the leadership of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has called for an investigation of ERCOT.