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An ice storm hit the Austin area the week of Jan. 30. Hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power as ice-covered trees toppled power lines across the city.

Warmer weather helps restoration efforts, but thousands still lack power in Austin

A street surrounded by trees covered in ice with apartment buildings in the background.
Michael Minasi
A tree leans on a power line in front of a home in South Austin on Thursday.

Five days after a winter storm brought ice to the area, more than 50,000 Austin Energy customers were still without power Saturday evening. The city-owned utility had no estimate on when power would be fully restored.

“While the weather continues to improve — which is very helpful — the trees are compromised," Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said in a news conference with city officials. “They were stressed by the heavy loading of ice on them, so there is still the potential for tree branches to come down and for more debris to impede our outage restoration.”

Austin Resource Recovery said it continues to respond to reports of debris and brush around the city. It had a backlog of 500 service requests around midday Saturday; City Council Districts 6, 8 and 10 have reported the most calls. The agency is asking residents to call 311 with service requests

James Snow, the deputy director of City of Austin Public Works, said 54 traffic signals in Austin were still dark and that nine were flashing around 3 p.m. Saturday. He said the flashing signals were expected to be fixed by the end of the day. Drivers are advised to treat dark or flashing signals as four-way stops.

Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis attended the news conference in place of Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. In a Saturday morning tweet, he announced he tested positive for COVID-19.

"This situation is far from ideal, but I’m still in contact with staff and will continue to work and receive storm recovery briefings," Watson wrote.

The mayor has been in physical contact with city and county leadership over the last few days. It was unknown whether anyone else had contracted the virus.

The winter storm covered trees with hundreds of pounds of ice, causing branches to break and full trees to topple onto power lines. Austin Energy linemen have been out clearing the lines to restore power, but the process has been slow-going.

Sargent said Austin Energy was working to troubleshoot problems with its outage map. She said customers who receive a text saying their power has been restored when it hasn't should reply with "OUT." If you text "STAT" for status and get a reply that says "not aware of an outage," she said, again type "OUT."

Austin Energy said crews had restored service to nearly 51,000 more customers. It said progress was possible, in part, because of the warmer temperatures. Highs near 60 degrees are expected Saturday, and temperatures Sunday could reach into the 70s.

As many as half the utility's customers — about 265,000 — were without power at one point during the week.

Austin Energy said crews may be knocking on doors to request access to equipment on residents' properties. It said personnel will be clearly identifiable with badges and in Austin Energy vehicles.

Oncor Electric, serving Bastrop, Williamson and Travis counties, is still trying to restore power to over 20,000 customers. The Pedernales Electric Cooperative — which serves cities like Liberty Hill, Cedar Park, Round Mountain and Oak Hill — is reporting over 1,800 customers still without power. Bluebonnet Electric — which serves cities like Bastrop, Elgin and Caldwell — is reporting about 300 customers without power. Restoration times for these areas is still unknown.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Saturday for Travis, Hays and Williamson counties. That means state funding and resources will be sent to Central Texas to assist with relief efforts. Travis County and the City of Austin on Friday issued disaster declarations to help the area get federal funding for storm cleanup. Hays and Williamson counties issued them, as well.

The Central Texas Food Bank held a food distribution Saturday morning for those in need because of the power outages. Video from CBS Austin showed a long line of cars outside the Onion Creek Soccer Complex. A second distribution was held in the afternoon at Nelson Field.

Austin ISD said it is returning to its normal schedule beginning Monday, but a few schools still don’t have power: Andrews, Hill, Joslin, Perez, Pillow, Ridgetop and St. Elmo. The district is expected to provide an update on those schools by Sunday at noon.

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