'Nothing we can do': Austinites who still don't have power are feeling hopeless
Stef Schrader has gone more than two days without power in her West Austin home. A collector of ’80s-era stuffed animals, Schrader has crammed her bed with these toys to help stay warm.
“There are three cabinets of those little guys,” she said, pointing to a glass case of Puffalumps, stuffed animals made with material typically used in parachutes. “A noticeable number [are] missing that are in my bed as an extra layer of insulation.”
Since Schrader lost power early Wednesday morning, the temperature in her house has dropped to the 50s. It’s not unbearable, she said, but certainly not comfortable. Austin Energy, the city’s largest electricity provider, said Thursday it could not give residents an estimate for when their power would be restored.
As Schrader considered going another day without heat, refrigeration or internet access, she had just two words: “Bad,” she said. “Cold.”
More than 100,000 Austin Energy customers were still without power as the sun set Friday. Days earlier, the state had been hit with a winter storm that caused extensive damage as trees, weighed down by ice, fell onto power lines.
Officials with the public utility say the job of extracting tree branches and limbs from electricity lines can often be complex — and they’ve been unable to restore power as quickly as they had hoped or anticipated. Austin Energy walked back an estimate that it could fix outages by 6 p.m. on Friday; it now says it does not have a good timeline.
The temperature in Haley Maddox’s apartment in Northeast Austin had dipped below 40 degrees by Friday morning. She said she’s stayed warm by snuggling with her two kids and praying.
But as she stood on her small porch next to food she put in a cooler to keep it from rotting, she said she was angry.
“When we don’t pay our bills, they come and cut us off, but when they don’t provide us energy, why can’t we cut off our own electric company and say get us a company that can provide us energy?” Maddox said.
Austin Energy says there are two circumstances to blame for the storm’s damage: ice and trees. But that has raised many questions about the city’s tree-trimming policy and if the electric utility could have better prepared for a storm officials have described as “historic.”
But South Austin resident Annie O’Grady said what has been characterized as unprecedented is starting to feel more usual. She, her husband and their dog have been without power for nearly three days.
“It’s really crazy when you have to take out your contacts by candlelight,” O’Grady said. “It doesn’t feel like this should be normal, but it’s starting to feel normal.”
In February 2021, millions of Texans lost power when the state’s electric grid failed to handle demand during a winter storm. But officials have made clear the current outages in Austin are because of ice damage, not the grid.
“These outages have nothing to do with the power grid,” Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy, said at a press conference Thursday morning. “These extended outages are what happens when ice starts to weigh down on tree limbs, power lines and utility poles.”
But while the explanations have been trotted out, residents in Austin still without power are frustrated. O’Grady said she feels “dejected.” She’s been wearing a purple hooded blanket to stay warm and dressing her dog in a sweater
“Resignation, I guess," she said. "There’s nothing we can do."
O’Grady works as a substitute teacher for the Austin Independent School District, which has been closed most of the week. She said she can't imagine having to teach right now: “Am I going to have to get ready for work by candlelight at 5 a.m.?”