Some of this is overblown. Most towns’ water supplies, for example, flow by gravity, not by pumping. Notwithstaninding that the water is, indeed, pumped into the reservoirs electrically, they contain more than a half day’s water supply.
It assumes, as well, that none of the surge breakers would work. Possibly on the super high voltage lines, they might not. But they do not explain why they would not work on the lesser lines, particularly if the transformers melted down and allowed super high voltage to flow into a smaller line. The surge would burn through the immediate segment of the lesser line immediately and the current would no longer flow into it.
Still, something like this would surely be catastrophic. I don’t see what city dwellers would do. Truly I don’t. With their last gasoline (assuming their cars’ electrical systems are not also fried, which I assume they would be) they would have no alternative but to head out into the countryside, where people can draw water from even electrically powered wells, as well as springs, old dug wells, etc, and where food would be difficult, but not impossible, and heating fuel can be cut from woodlots. Been there, done that. But even in the country, it’s no picnic without power or access to gasoline or diesel fuel. Because of not infrequent power outages, most country people have wood stoves, fireplaces, generators and a fair amount of stored food. Most farmers have fuel storage tanks, kept reasonably full. It might take a lot to fix a car or pickup with a fried electrical system, and it might be impossible for all I know. But fixing fried wiring on most tractors would be a matter of replacing the wiring only. No electronics at all on most of them. Old vehicles manufactured before electronic elements might be the only ones running.
Every now and then, country people will talk about disaster scenarios like this, interestingly enough. Maybe because experiencing extended power outages in, e.g., ice storms, gives one time to consider such possibilities. Most agree that, in addition to keeping supplemental supplies of canned food and those medicines one can buy without prescription, the most valuable thing to keep on hand in quantity is ammunition, and many do.
But the whole thing wouldn’t be pretty. I know for a fact that big transformers are not kept in supply to any great extent. I recall an electrical engineer who is involved with public safety, pointed out to me one big transformer near here which, if bombed by a terrorist, would take days to replace, and whose absence would cut thousands off from electrical power.