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Some Texans told they owe thousands in electric bills

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Millions of Texans lost their power last week as they desperately tried to stay warm amid a historic chill that descended upon the region. But those whose power continued to stay on were hit with bad news, too.

One man received a $17,000 bill for his power use during the winter weather, he told ABC News.

“Many people in Texas are on variable rates for their power,” ABC News’ Trevor Ault said. “In general, you could save a lot of money on your electric bill that way. But if you think about it like trying to score an Uber on New Year's Eve, everybody is trying to use their power ... so the variable rate of power for some people went up 50 times higher than it had ever been before.”

a woman sitting in a parking lot: A Houston Texans cheerleader places bananas into the bed of a truck food during the Houston Food Bank food distribution at NRG Stadium, Feb. 21, 2021, in Houston, Texas. © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images A Houston Texans cheerleader places bananas into the bed of a truck food during the Houston Food Bank food distribution at NRG Stadium, Feb. 21, 2021, in Houston, Texas.

Ault spoke to one mother who turned off anything that she thought may use up power during the several days of freezing weather.

MORE: Family of 11-year-old boy who died in Texas deep freeze files $100 million suit against power companies

“They unplugged their refrigerator. They filled it with snow to keep it cold,” he said. “They didn't want their pipes to burst, so they wrapped their pipes in diapers. They literally only had their thermostat going, and for four days, their bill was $621.”

Texas officials have said they’re working to address these issues. However, for many families, the money had already left their accounts, Ault said.

a living room filled with furniture and a window: People sleep on couches while taking shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts, Feb. 18, 2021, in Houston, Texas. © Go Nakamura/Getty Images People sleep on couches while taking shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts, Feb. 18, 2021, in Houston, Texas.

“Even though you might eventually maybe get some federal funds to pay you back for those astronomical bills, there's a chance that you just got several thousand dollars automatically deducted from your account to pay your power bill to keep warm, because the alternative was that you let your house fall to 32 degrees,” Ault said.

a close up of a flag © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images MORE: Millions of Texans still scramble for drinking water after devastating winter storm

In communities where power has been restored, the problems from the storm are far from over.

a close up of a toy car on display: Volunteers prepare to hand out water during a water distribution event at the Fountain Life Center, Feb. 20, 2021, in Houston, Texas. © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Volunteers prepare to hand out water during a water distribution event at the Fountain Life Center, Feb. 20, 2021, in Houston, Texas.

“[Some] say they would certainly prefer to lose power if it meant they got to keep clean water at their home,” Ault said. “We're seeing millions of people who are still having to hunt for bottled water. They're relying on distribution sites set up in their community that are handing out thousands of bottles at a time, if they can even get their hands on that at the distribution site. And not to mention, you have so many disenfranchised people in Texas who don't have the ability to go to these distribution sites.”

MORE: Matthew McConaughey, NBA's Myles Turner and more come together to help Texas, what you can do

The scope of the weather’s effect on the state is something we’re just beginning to understand, he added.

“You have to remember, there have been dozens of people who have reportedly died from hypothermia in one of the hottest regions of the entire country,” he said. “Those dozens of cases are only the ones that we know about so far. The list is growing every day."

This report was featured in the Feb. 22 episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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