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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

'You’re On Your Own': Thousands Of Austinites Without Power Try To Survive After State Electric Grid Fails

Icicles hang from the roof of a house in the Travis Height neighborhood of South Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Icicles hang from a roof in the Travis Heights neighborhood of South Austin on Monday.

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Diana Gomez and her boyfriend, Curtis Feronti, have been hunkered down in a powerless apartment in the Crestview neighborhood in Austin for almost two days.

Like millions of other Texans who lost power early Monday morning, Gomez is worried about the plummeting temperatures in the apartment.

“Right now it’s reading at 50 degrees,” she said after checking her thermostat.

Gomez and Feronti say they are mostly staying in a bedroom under the covers because it’s the warmest option right now.

Their life is currently laser focused on staying warm and figuring out how to make food without any power. Feronti has some camping gear, so they can charge their phones with solar power. They are largely subsisting on granola, peanut butter and tuna they bought for a camping trip.

RELATED | How To Help People Without Power In Austin – And How To Find Help If You Need It

Gomez said they have also started figuring out ways to be creative with the food they have left.

“We had some leftover chili we made a few days ago,” she said. “And my boyfriend has a tiny little fire starter. So, he just went out back behind the apartment and lit a fire using the cardboard we have from our all of our Amazon boxes.”

This is how a lot of people in Austin are trying to survive right now.

Cliona Gunter also lives in Crestview with her partner, Tony Beldock. They’ve gone more than 30 hours without power. Gunter said they have a working toilet and a gas stove – but that’s about it.

“It’s like it’s 1850 in here,” she said.

Beldock said the stove is being used to cook their meals – as well to keep their extremities warm.

“We put a pan on the stove and heated it up,” she said, “[And] put it on the floor to heat our feet.”

Beldock said parts of their house are as cold as 29 degrees and there is ice coating the inside of their windows.

For some, this situation became dire.

“She had piled all of her blankets on top of her. She had gotten the extra sweatshirts out of her closet and put those on her bed. But she is not equipped to handle a situation like that. She has got Parkinson's. She uses a walker.”
Anne Hebert, Hyde Park resident

Anne Hebert, who's without power in Hyde Park, said her main concern has been for her neighbor Mary, who is 88 years old and lives alone.

Early on, she said, she checked in on Mary and brought her food.

“She had piled all of her blankets on top of her,” Hebert said. “She had gotten the extra sweatshirts out of her closet and put those on her bed. But she is not equipped to handle a situation like that. She has got Parkinson's. She uses a walker.”

Mary doesn’t have a cellphone or computer, so Hebert had to figure out how to get her somewhere safer. Eventually, she found volunteers from a church group to take her in, which was a huge relief.

And as Hebert’s own house got colder – even into the 30s – she decided to go stay with her parents. She said she hadn’t set foot in their house since the pandemic started.

This desperation has made a lot of people scared – but also really mad.

“I am honestly very angry at how unprepared the state was,” Gomez said. “And I am angry at the state’s failed leadership. It’s our state that is supposed to be managing this electrical grid situation. But right now it seems like it isn’t being managed. It seems like a huge mismanagement.”

Besides figuring out how to survive, many powerless Austinites say they have spent time trying to figure out why this is happening.

Cornell Woolridge said he’s managing in Northwest Austin with some gas appliances, but it’s been a frustrating experience.

Wooldridge said he was surprised to learn Texas has its own electric grid because it doesn’t want to deal with federal regulation.

“I am just really mad about the fact that our state could be so high on itself when it comes to energy production and all that,” he said, “and not do what it needs to do to take care of people in their biggest time of need like this one.”

Gunter said she thinks state and local governments need to start preparing for extreme weather.

“Especially with climate change,” she said. “I mean, I have lived in Austin since 1980 and this is the coldest I remember.”

Hebert said she thinks governments should prepare our infrastructure, including the electric grid, under the assumption extreme weather will happen every five to 10 years – not once every 100 years.

She also said she wants to see more planning and preparation for events like this.

So many people in Austin were left to fend for themselves this week, she said.

“They just cut off a third of the city,” she said, “and just said, ‘You are on your own.’”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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