They lost power in the 2021 blackout and their mom died. Now they don't have power again.
Just off Far West Boulevard in North Austin, streets are lined with what look like 7-foot-tall barricades — nests of gnarled limbs and branches from downed live oaks and Ashe juniper trees.
"It's like a war zone," Rajeeta Shah says.
Rajeeta and her sister, Minal, have been without power since last Tuesday. To heat their home, they've been using firewood from a cedar tree that was knocked down during the freeze two years ago. The tree, which sat in the center of their backyard next to a koi pond, reminded the Shahs of their mother, Manjula Shah. She died the same day it came crashing down.
When a reporter stopped by Monday, Rajeeta had just gotten off the phone with Austin Energy. The customer service representative couldn't give her an estimate on when her power would be restored. Like thousands of Austin Energy customers, she's pleaded for clearer communication from the utility and balked at the possibility of going another week without power.
"That's tough to digest, and we don't know if it applies to us," she says. "There is no communication [or] explanation why ... and I think that is also difficult, because then we could plan! If we knew it was going to be seven days, we could've done something different."
Rajeeta says she relayed her story to the Austin Energy representative, that she told her about her mother's decline and how after her death, her father died of a broken heart.
"I said, ‘Look, this is the second time this has happened. My mom passed away two years ago, and we were one of the last houses to get power. So I don’t understand how … you prioritize this,'" Rajeeta says.
She was especially frustrated with the power outage because her aunts are coming to town this week to mark the two-year anniversary of Manjula's death.
Meanwhile, most of her neighbors have power. They've been letting the Shahs come over to shower, wash clothes and charge phones. Rajeeta's even been working remotely at a neighbor’s house. That part has been heartening, she says, the community coming together.
Her partner has been helping cut down and quarter trees in the neighborhood — even clearing the driveway of a 90-year-old a block over who was essentially trapped in her house. Neighborhood kids have been helping gather branches and taking them to the curb.
It's a neighborhood on a hill, right near Murchison Middle School, ensconced in live oak and Ashe juniper trees. Those trees specifically don't shed their canopy in winter so they collected ice during last week's storm. That's what pulled whole limbs onto power lines across Austin.
Rajeeta says the trees are part of why she loves the neighborhood, but now she thinks the natural beauty has become a liability of sorts.
"There's so many trees; it's a huge expense to trim everything," she says. After the 2021 freeze, the Shah sisters paid a little over $2,000 to lop off a single limb from a Chinaberry tree in their backyard.
Minal estimates it'd probably cost $10,000 to get everything fully trimmed, and while she hopes freezes and power outages aren't an annual occurrence, she can't help but think they will be.
"The question to ask," she says, is "which trees now to keep and which trees to cut."