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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.

Thousands Of Austinites Are Still Without Water. They Spent Saturday Searching For it.

Hunt For Clean Water
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Brewers Eric Attwood and Bjorn Fossmo fill containers with drinking water at Pinthouse Brewing in South Austin on Saturday.

They melted snow. They used water from tubs they had the foresight to fill. They scoured grocery stores and convenience stores for bottled water.

But still, the water ran out.

Thousands of Austinites continue to live without running water after a week of below freezing temperatures and resulting power outages. The leaking from cracked and broken pipes has depleted the city’s water storage, an issue further compounded when power failed at an Austin Water treatment plant earlier in the week.

With warmer temperatures making the roads safer, Austin residents have ventured from their homes in search of clean water and have found it at breweries, fire hydrants and community donation sites.

Anna Lombardo and her sister, Linda, have been without water in their South Austin home since Wednesday. On Friday, they spent four hours driving around in search of bottled water. They had no luck.

“I’ve been going from south to everywhere just looking for water,” the younger Lombardo, Anna, said.

On Saturday, they heard that local breweries, which typically house large water tanks, were filling up containers people brought from home. The Lombardos drove to Pinthouse Pizza in South Austin that morning with several gallon jugs they had. Half of the 8 gallons they'd collect was going to an elderly neighbor.

Hunt for Clean Water
Michael Minasi/KUT
Justin Ashford, 48, carries a container of water filled up at Pinthouse Brewing. His family lacks safe drinking water in their South Austin home.

It was better than what they’d been doing -- shoveling snow into pails, letting it melt and then boiling it.

“It takes forever for the ice to melt,” Anna said. “You have to make sure it’s clean. When you melt ice, it doesn’t really give a lot. You have to keep shoveling more just to get a pail of water.”

Anna said she was disappointed with the lack of information from the City of Austin government about where to find water.

Austin and Travis County officials announced Saturday that water would be available only to those in dire need of it at several cold weather shelters across the city. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he expects mass water-distribution sites to open in the city's 10 districts Sunday, but provided no additional information.

Wen Zhang said the state seemed entirely unprepared for the winter weather, but she didn’t blame the government.

“We may not have this for another 30 years,” she said. “Maybe I won’t be able to see the next [disaster].”

Zhang lost water in her home Wednesday afternoon after not having power for nearly three days. She and her family began shoveling snow from their back deck into coolers, waiting for it to melt.

jollyville water
Audrey McGlinchy
Firefighters with the Jollyville Fire Department hooked up garden hoses to a hydrant in a neighborhood in Williamson County to get water to families who needed it.

On Saturday, Zhang watched as firefighters with the Jollyville Fire Department in Williamson County filled two jugs she brought from home with water; the department had hooked up 10 garden hoses to a fire hydrant across the street. People pulled their cars up alongside the hoses, handing firefighters whatever containers they could scrounge up.

The City of Austin announced Wednesday that water was no longer safe to drink straight from the tap and issued a water-boil notice. Around the same time, residents began to report low water pressure, while some pipes had dried up completely. A map issued by Austin Water on Friday shows most of the city with no running water, and officials have not been able to say exactly how many homes don't have it — only that the number is in the “tens of thousands.”

Alfredo Ramirez said he was frustrated with what he saw as a lack of communication from the local government.

clean water
Michael Minasi
Tim Dombeck, of St. Elmo Brewing Company, refills containers with drinking water at the brewery in South Austin.

Ramirez, his fiancé and 4-month-old baby had been without water in their townhome since Wednesday morning. He stood in line at St. Elmo’s Brewery in Southeast Austin with all the would-be water jugs he could muster: an empty vinegar bottle and two plastic cereal containers.

Ramirez looked around at those in line hugging 5-gallon water jugs, feeling unprepared.

“It was low pressure and then it was gone,” he said of the water in his house.

Ramirez said if Austin Water had given residents more of a heads up that the water would stop running, he may have filled up his family’s second bathtub.

“We filled up one tub. And we were like, should we fill up the other tub? That seems excessive,” he said. “I really wish we had.”

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