Austin Doesn't Know When It Will Fully Restore Power As Hundreds Of Thousands Of Texans Are Left Out In The Cold (2023)

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Hundreds of thousands of businesses and homes in central and east Texas lost power Thursday as utility crews continued to struggle to repair power lines downed by freezing rain and fallen trees.

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The epicenter of the crisis was Austin, where the city's utility said it didn't know when it could narrowly restore power.150,000 familiesand businesses, many of which have no power available since Wednesday morning. Austin Energy previously announced that power would be restored at 6 pm. Friday.

"We were hoping to make more progress on the restorations today, and that just didn't happen," Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. “We understand that this makes an already challenging situation even more difficult. We have over 100 crew and additional resources on their way to our area to help with the restoration effort.”

national,about 325,000 customershad no power thursday night. Utility company officials and Austin officials were heavily criticized for this.tricky warnings before power failureand a lack of clarity about when it would be restored. The disruptions continue as residents head into another day of closed college campuses and public schools and a legislature on pause.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, roads were still covered in ice on Thursday, but conditions are expected to improve as the weather warms up for the rest of the week.

Freezing rain and power outages disrupted normal Texan life in many counties. School districts in the affected areas were closed until at least Thursday. Thousands of flights scheduled to arrive at or depart from Dallas and Austin airports were canceled this week. Delays and cancellations continued on Thursday,oceano FlightAware.

The causes of the power outages are different from the infamous winter storm of 2021, when the state's power grid nearly collapsed during a catastrophic freeze that killed hundreds of Texans. This year's winter storm is not as cold, prolonged or widespread as the one two years ago. And today's outages are mostly due to localized problems like downed power lines, not a problem with the power grid.

However, this week's weather and disruptions were another reminder that city and state emergency response agencies have not prioritized preparing for the harsh winter weather in the past because Texas is warm most of the year. Exposed power lines, which are cheaper to build than buried ones, accumulate ice in the bitter cold, and freezing precipitation can stress and break them, leading to and prolonging blackouts, even if the power grid remains stable.

At one point Wednesday, more than 170,000 of the state's approximately 350,000 outages were Austin Energy customers. About 154,000 customers of the Austin energy provider as of around 7 am on Thursdaylacked strength. About 400,000 customers across the country were affected at the, although the state's main power grid has remained stable. While power was restored to a significant number of Texans outside of Austin on Thursday, the state capital's municipal utility has made slow progress.

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Austin Energy took to Twitter to update customers on the teams' progress during Wednesday. At 11:35 it was timewarned that some flawscould continue for another 12 to 24 hours. Around 4pm, after tens of thousands of customers were without power for hours, the company reported power outages.would last until Thursday and urged people to move. Later on Wednesday night, Sargent Mayor Pro Tem told Paige Ellis in an email that the dealership expects to have all outages restored by 6 pm. Friday.

On Wednesday night, Austin Energy tweeted that it isThe online tool for reporting outages was not working. The company asked people to call if they had any questions.warned customers of long waits to get through.

As the number of customers without power fluctuated throughout Wednesday, those without power criticized government and utility officials for not using broader communication channels to prepare for going without power for so long.

“I take responsibility for not being better prepared, but I wish there was more clarity on the city's preparedness. My expectation was icy roads, no blackouts,” said Allison Rizzolo, who lost power in Austin late in the morning. "I understand there's a fine line between preparedness and panic, but I wish they had been more aggressive in their communication."

The ice also snapped trees in Austin on Wednesday. Images of some divisions on social media circulated as crews worked to cut and remove fallen limbs from the streets.

"At this point, at least on the Travis County side, here's what we're doing: If there's a tree on the road down there, a crew will cut it down and just push it to the side just to try and get to the next tree. ." because so many have fallen," District Judge Andy Brown said in an interview. "I'm really asking people to stay home if they can and not travel."

Austin's outages were caused by more than 1,300 incidents, said Austin Energy spokesman Matt Mitchell, each of which called for an individual assessment by crews traversing fallen debris and icy roads.

While repairs were ongoing, other customers reported more crashes throughout the day.

"It's like Whack-a-Mole," Mitchell said.

After weathering the 2021 freeze, affected Texans were bracing for a repeat this week.

After running out of firewood during the freeze, 47-year-old Wenona Cave in Flynn began hoarding wood in anticipation of another winter storm. She said her current stock is about 15 feet long and 5 feet tall.

"I live in the country, so I can't just run to Walmart," Cave said. "I try to make sure I have food I can eat without having to cook and I have plenty of flashlights and batteries and candles."

The lack of electricity can particularly hit vulnerable Texans when they depend on it for medical equipment.

"In an event where you lose power, you lose access to resources," said Stephanie Duke, disaster resilience coordinator at Disability Rights Texas. "So if you really have contingency plans, you better prepare."

Others tried to prepare but were frustrated by what they described as a lack of communication from government officials. Kasey McCarty, who lives in Austin's Southwood neighborhood, didn't lose power until around 7:20 pm. But Wednesday was without internet connection all day.

The 52-year-old said she had signed up for every text alert in the city but had not heard from Austin Energy, the city or the state. Without strong internet service, she cannot access smartphone apps designed to help residents in emergencies. She also didn't hear much about the storm on the radio.

"I consider ourselves fortunate and prepared, but the serious lack of a city or state emergency alert system is worrying and irresponsible. And the total lack of information on local radio stations," she wrote to the Tribune. Haiti, Brady's retirement and the benefits of dark chocolate, but I have no idea what's going on in Austin."

The power outage affected a water district pumping station in western Travis County, which supplies West Lake Hills and some parts of Austin. As power officials worked to restore power, water district officials urged residents to conserve water "to ensure there are no interruptions to water service." The ad remained active on Wednesday night.

Austin Water, which serves most of Austin, said no water or sewage treatment plants were affected and is operating normally. A pumping station that lacked electricity was given backup power because it was "vital to maintaining water pressure in southwest Austin, as well as levels in the reservoirs that serve those areas."

“Like many Austin residents who have struggled with power outages due to ice buildup, we fixed the outages and worked with Austin Energy to restore power as quickly as possible,” Austin Water said in a statement. “It would greatly help Austin Water's efforts if people could conserve water by temporarily postponing laundry or using the dishwasher until we fully restore power. This puts less strain on the system as a whole and helps us keep everyone supplied with water.”

The announcement was made by officials of the national meteorological serviceThe ice storm would continue across the southern plains and south-central "as warm, moist air flows north from the Gulf over a flat layer of freezing surface temperatures."

"Outside our North Tarrant County office, it's like an ice rink," said Hunter Reeves, a meteorologist for the NWS in North Texas. "We have this freezing rain that's coming in now and it's not going anywhere."

Meanwhile, Austin residents waited for power to be restored, but many heard only the snapping of more trees succumbing to the frost.

Samantha Aguilar, Sneha Dey, Joshua Fechter, William Melhado and Alex Nguyen contributed to this story.

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