SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One disaster after another for Texans.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For snow and ice storms brought down the power grid. And now broken pipes have flooded homes, bringing even more misery.
SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.
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SIMON: Millions of Texans are without clean drinking water, and efforts to hand out bottled water in some cities fall short.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And in his first international address as president, Joe Biden signals America's return to diplomacy.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm sending a clear message to the world. America is back.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he tells Iran, come to the table and talk. But Tehran says, not so fast.
SIMON: Also, trying to sign up for the coronavirus vaccine - well, it can be tricky.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, but we've got an online tool that will help. All the news you need to start your weekend coming up. So stay with us.
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SIMON: Texas is slowly starting to thaw out, but now the problem is access to food and, more urgently, clean water.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, some homes are actually without any. And others who do have water have to boil it to make sure it's safe to use. Here is Houston's mayor, Sylvester Turner, speaking to MSNBC.
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SYLVESTER TURNER: I'm especially concerned for people in our low-income communities, for our seniors who don't have the means, for example, to go to a hotel. They don't have fireplaces, for example. They don't have the means to get a plumber out there as quickly as possible.
SIMON: With the latest, we're joined by Houston Public Media's Gail Delaughter. Gail, tough week. Thanks for joining us. We hear nearly half the state has problems with water.
GAIL DELAUGHTER, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott. Well, you know, here in Texas, the big problem right now is we don't have the same sort of insulation for pipes that you may see in some colder climates. So if those pipes froze, there's probably some sort of damage. And with everything we're seeing around the state, it's probably going to be a while before you can get someone in to fix it. So as a result of this, communities that do have water coming through the tap right now - they're under orders to boil the water until it's tested to see if it's safe to drink. And with outages and everything going on around the state and also a limited number of labs that do that testing, it might be a while to get those results. Now, as for why people have to boil their water in the first place, that's to guard against any contamination. It could have happened after the water pressure dropped or because when the pipes broke or water treatment that was disrupted because of the power outages.
SIMON: And there were were reports are going to extremes to find water, aren't they?
DELAUGHTER: Well, we're seeing pictures coming out of San Antonio where people actually went to the Riverwalk to dip jugs of water into the river so they could get nonpotable water they could use to flush their toilets. In other places, we're hearing about people thawing ice that they collected in their yard during the ice storm to use that for the same purpose.
Meanwhile, local governments are quickly having to swing into action. They're organizing mass distribution events to get both drinkable and nonpotable water. And then also, local supermarket chains are trying to replenish their supplies right now. A lot of the roads were closed, or it was difficult to travel for a few days because of the ice. But now that that's cleared up, they don't think they'll have as much of a problem getting their shelves stocked with bottled water.
SIMON: What about hospitals and other critical care facilities?
DELAUGHTER: Well, Houston hospitals say they were very busy during the weather event the past few days. And a lot of them had to improvise - just like the homeowners were. One hospital said they actually had to collect rainwater to flush their toilets. And the thing you have to remember here - this is in the middle of the pandemic, when sanitation remains an utmost concern right now. Now, on top of this, a lot of dialysis patients were coming in the hospitals. The regular clinics were closed because of the weather, and they simply had nowhere to get their treatment. So they had to come to the hospital. And those facilities essentially had to set up makeshift dialysis clinics.
SIMON: I gather Houston has better weather now. It will soon be up in the 60s. How soon will a return to anything like normal life be?
DELAUGHTER: Well, the weather is going to get back to normal as soon as today here in the Houston region. We're going to see temperatures in the 50s around much of the state right now. People - today, they're going to be regrouping. They're going to be assessing what pipe damage, what damage they have to the water delivery system to their home. And then also, the effort remains this weekend to get food and water to people who need it. There's a lot of grassroots mutual aid organizing going on right now. County commissioners, city councilmembers are out having these events where they can get water to people. So despite the nicer temperatures we're expecting going into next week, you still have a lot of people dealing with the aftereffects. And as repair needs keep piling up around the state, it could be a while before some people get their full services back.
SIMON: Gail Delaughter of Houston Public Media, thank you so much.
Back to the table, maybe. President Biden has signaled that America's willing to join Iran and other world powers in talks. Those would be aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement. But so far, Iran has been less than enthusiastic.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, Iranian leaders say they have a precondition. All American sanctions against Iran must be lifted unconditionally. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story from Istanbul and joins us now. Good morning.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where are we at right now in this very crucial diplomatic dance?
KENYON: Yes, Iran basically sat back and watched as Biden reversed the Trump administration effort at reimposing international sanctions on Iran and also eased travel restrictions on the Iranian diplomats at the U.N. As you mentioned, it's all part of his push to let the world know that with Trump gone, America's back when it comes to international diplomacy and working with allies. But the sanctions Trump imposed in 2018 are still there, and that's the dominant issue in Tehran.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared Tehran won't respond to words, only actions, in particular, actions on sanctions. And this morning, government spokesman Ali Rubaie was quoted, saying they were sure that diplomatic initiatives will result in a favorable outcome despite the diplomatic wrangling. And that was a reference to both Washington and Tehran insisting the other side has to go first before there can be any talks. And all the while, Iran's getting more enriched uranium and installing new centrifuges. So it's getting more and more urgent.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, more and more urgent. I mean, Iran once said it could return to compliance with the nuclear deal within hours of sanctions being lifted. You say that they are getting more centrifuges and enriching more uranium. Is that still the case then?
KENYON: Well, I would say not necessarily. I mean, Khamenei said recently that Tehran intends to verify that all the sanctions have been properly lifted. It's not quite clear what that would entail or how long it might take. But Iran - while it's still saying it'll return to compliance if sanctions are lifted, exactly when is a little less clear right now. And we should note that Iran has been increasing its enrichment. It's still nowhere near weapons-grade fuel.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So it might not be near getting a nuclear weapon, but Washington wants to talk about more than just returning to the deal, doesn't it? I mean, Biden said he wants negotiations on Iran's ballistic missile systems, as well.
KENYON: Yeah. And that is not seen as especially likely right now. Iran is very proud of its missile program. It's been described as the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel. And a top Iranian general is quoted as saying Iran won't negotiate its defensive powers with anybody under any circumstances. And the same goes for Iran's actions in the region, by the way, another topic Washington has wanted to talk about.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. But this is a topic of conversation because there's another deadline coming up on the 23, Tuesday.
KENYON: That's right. There is. Iran says if sanctions aren't lifted by then, it will take another step away from the nuclear agreement by no longer implementing what are known as the additional protocols. Basically, it means no more snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. That would be the biggest move yet away from the deal. And each step, of course, moves Tehran that much closer to being able to pursue a nuclear weapon if it decides it wants to do that. It says it doesn't. But again, the immediate issue right now is sanctions. If those are lifted, then Tehran says all violations of the deal can be reversed.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you very much.
KENYON: Thanks, Lulu.
SIMON: Trying to snag a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment can be frustrating and, at times, feel just impossible.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adding to the confusion and desperation people feel is that things vary state to state, county to county. And they can change daily. On top of everything, now there's extreme weather across much of the country that has delayed vaccine delivery.
SIMON: NPR has launched a new tool to try to help you figure out how to sign up for a vaccine based on where you live. So we have asked NPR health reporter Pien Huang to join us to talk about it. Pien, thanks so much for being with us.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: And let me begin by asking about the winter weather across much of the country. What kind of serious delays have they caused?
HUANG: Yeah. Well, a lot of vaccine appointments were canceled this week because there were sites without electricity or bad road conditions that made it hard for people to get to those appointments. And there are also delays with supply. The White House says there were 6 million doses that were supposed to go out earlier this week but didn't. Andy Slavitt, the White House COVID response coordinator, said that most of those doses are in freezer storage right now, ready to ship when the weather clears.
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ANDY SLAVITT: We know many Americans are awaiting their second dose and many more their first dose. If we all work together, from the factory all the way to the vaccinators, we will make up for it in the coming week.
HUANG: So the weather has definitely put a huge crimp in the momentum. But the White House is pushing for a quick recovery. And they're telling states to get ready for a surge in vaccines, which they say is coming.
SIMON: Tell us about the online tool developed by NPR.
HUANG: Yeah. So one of the big problems that we've heard is that the process for signing up for a vaccine is totally patchwork. You know, in states like New Mexico and West Virginia, there's one single state registry for booking appointments. And some other states just give you a map of vaccine providers and say, good luck. Go book one directly. So here at NPR, we put a dozen researchers on it. We looked up how to sign up in every state. And we built an online tool that walks you through the steps for how to get an appointment where you live.
SIMON: Well, so what do you do? Go to the site and just type in your state or commonwealth or district?
HUANG: Well, basically, when you get to the website, you choose your state and, in some cases, your city from a drop-down menu. And then you'll find that we've created a blueprint which walks you through reliable sources that will help you figure out the process in your state. And we've basically broken it down into four questions. You know, the first one is, is it your turn to get a vaccine? You know, different states have different priority groups. So we've figured out for you where you can find the phase of distribution in your state. If you are eligible, the next question is, you know, is there a government registry where you can sign up to get one? Some state and local health departments are keeping lists. And if you register, they'll tell you when it's your turn.
Next, if you can't get a vaccine appointment through your local registry, is there a private provider nearby, like a pharmacy or a hospital where you can sign up directly? Vaccines are being sent to chain pharmacies. So you might be able to book directly with your local CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid. And if you have more questions, which a lot of people inevitably will, we've pulled together the hotlines and the FAQs in each state that can help you answer those questions.
SIMON: All of which sounds very useful, Pien. Any additional advice we should have?
HUANG: Yeah. Well, the fact is that supply is really limited right now. So the trick is to be persistent and, especially if you're not yet eligible, to be patient. You know, if a hotline is jammed when you call, try again. If the appointment site crashes like it did in Massachusetts earlier this week, try later. And look to your local news outlets or neighborhood groups for tips on where people are getting appointments, and when they drop. And also, remember that it is not impossible. You know, more than 40 million people have gotten vaccinated already. And more vaccines are going out every week.
SIMON: NPR health reporter Pien Huang, thanks so much for being with us.
HUANG: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And to use the vaccine finder tool, you can go to npr.org/shots.
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SIMON: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, February 20, 2021.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.
SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your week. You can follow us on social media. We're @UpFirst on Twitter.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We also have more news and interviews. We'll talk books and hear new music. And don't forget The Puzzle.
SIMON: How could I? This can all be found on the radio, Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.
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