Generators, Spoiled Food: Slow Power Repairs Anger Austin

February 7, 2023by Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado, Associated Press
Generators, Spoiled Food: Slow Power Repairs Anger Austin
Katy Manganella, 37, protests in front of an Austin Energy truck in her neighborhood in Austin, Texas, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Weber)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Like thousands of other Austin residents, Darin Murphy began a sixth day Monday with no power in his home, wrapping his head around the city’s latest demoralizing update: Getting the lights fully back on may take another week.

“We are planning for worst-case scenario,” he said.

Making any plans has been difficult — and downright infuriating — for nearly 20,000 customers who still had no electricity Monday nearly a week after a deadly ice storm crippled the Texas capital and brought down power lines under the weight of fallen and frozen tree limbs. Schools finally reopened, but noisy generators rattled before dawn and outdoor extension cords running 100 feet (30 meters) or longer became lifelines between neighbors who had power and those who didn’t.

The boiling frustration over the slow pace of restoring power, and officials repeatedly saying they could not offer timetables for repairs, escalated Monday as the future of Austin’s top city executive plunged into jeopardy even as the number of outages continued falling.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat, called a meeting for this week that will put City Manager Spencer Cronk’s job on the line. The move reflected the rising discontent in America’s 11th-largest city, where late Sunday night, Austin Energy issued a statement in the face of growing criticism that full power restoration may not happen until Feb. 12 — nearly two weeks after the outages began.

“To all our Austin citizens who are furious about the ongoing power outage, you’re right,” Watson tweeted. “There must be accountability.”

Cronk, who oversees city staff, responded by telling reporters he was focused on the storm recovery and restoring power. Watson did not outright say whether he thinks Cronk should be fired but said Thursday’s meeting would “evaluate the employment” of the city manager.

For the vast majority of Austin residents, the lights were on Monday or never went out in the first place. At the peak of the outages, about 170,000 homes and businesses — nearly a third of utility customers in Austin — had no electricity, and in many cases, no heat. By Monday, the outages were down to about 4% of all customers.

But in neighborhoods still without power, familiar scenes unfolded.

Spoiled food piled up in trash bins. Power outlets in coffee shops and restaurants were snatched up by people charging battery packs and devices. And on text message groups and social media apps, the sights of repair crews were treated as urgent developments.

Katy Manganella, 37, grew so fed up that when Austin Energy came to her neighborhood Sunday with a charging station for residents — but still no repair trucks — she paced in front of the station holding a poster that read, “This pregnant lady is over it!”

“It’s been pretty miserable,” said Manganella, a therapist who is seven months pregnant and was unable to work last week because of the outages. “How is there no plan for this?”

Austin Energy has described the remaining outages as the most complicated and time-consuming. The storm plunged temperatures near or below freezing and coated trees with ice across Austin, weighing down branches that eventually snapped and crashed onto power lines. Iced-over equipment and crews driving on slick roads also slowed recovery efforts, according to city officials.

Crews have also come across “irate customers” out in the field, said Craig Brooks, director of operations for Austin Energy, including one instance in which police were called. He did not provide specifics about the encounters, describing them as, “Some verbal. Some people protecting their property.”

The utility warned Monday that a new front of high winds and potential storms starting Tuesday could further hamper restoration efforts.

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Weather

Storm Carrying Massive 'Gorilla Hail' Hits Parts of Kansas and Missouri

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Massive chunks of hail pelted parts of Kansas and Missouri on Wednesday night, bringing traffic to... Read More

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Massive chunks of hail pelted parts of Kansas and Missouri on Wednesday night, bringing traffic to a standstill along Interstate 70, as storms unleashed possible tornadoes and meteorologists urged residents to stay indoors. There were three unconfirmed reports of tornadoes in Wabaunsee... Read More

More Mountain Snow Expected as Powerful Blizzard Moves Out of Northern California

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) — A powerful blizzard that closed highways and ski resorts had mostly moved through the Sierra Nevada by early... Read More

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) — A powerful blizzard that closed highways and ski resorts had mostly moved through the Sierra Nevada by early Monday but forecasters warned that more snow was on the way for Northern California mountains. Sections of Interstate 80 to the west and north of Lake... Read More

John Kerry Reflects on Time as Top US Climate Negotiator

WASHINGTON (AP) — Time was running out and U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry knew it. International climate talks in mid-December... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — Time was running out and U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry knew it. International climate talks in mid-December were stuck with no agreement to phase out oil, gas and coal, fossil fuels that are the root cause of global warming. The United Nations sponsored... Read More

Blizzard Warning of up to 10 Feet of Snow in the Sierra Could Make Travel 'Dangerous to Impossible'

A Pacific storm packing powerful winds and heavy snow is shaping up to be the strongest of the season, forecasters... Read More

A Pacific storm packing powerful winds and heavy snow is shaping up to be the strongest of the season, forecasters say, as it pushes toward California with potential blizzard conditions in the Sierra and up to 10 feet (3 meters) of snow in the mountains around Lake Tahoe... Read More

Wildfire Grows Into Second-Largest in Texas History

A fast-moving wildfire burning through the Texas Panhandle grew into the second-largest blaze in state history Wednesday, forcing evacuations and... Read More

A fast-moving wildfire burning through the Texas Panhandle grew into the second-largest blaze in state history Wednesday, forcing evacuations and triggering power outages as firefighters struggled to contain the widening flames. The sprawling blaze was part of a cluster of fires that burned out of control... Read More

Winter Storm Hits Northeast, Causing Difficult Driving, Closed Schools and Canceled Flights

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Parts of the Northeast were hit Tuesday by a snowstorm that canceled flights and schools and... Read More

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Parts of the Northeast were hit Tuesday by a snowstorm that canceled flights and schools and prompted warnings for people to stay off the roads, while some areas that anticipated heavy snow were getting less than that as the weather pattern changed. More... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top