Mayor Apologizes for Lack of Communication as 120,000 Austinites Are Still Without Power

Austin Energy “cautiously optimistic” about power restorations

Austin Energy GM Jackie Sargent AE is “cautiously optimistic” about restorations picking up as the number of repeated outages are slowing down due to fewer trees falling (photo by John Anderson)

At a Friday morning press conference, Mayor Kirk Watson formally apologized for the lack of clear communication until yesterday regarding widespread power outages due to severe winter weather.

”As mayor I accept responsibility on behalf of the city and I accept that we have let people down. The situation is unacceptable to the community, and it’s unacceptable to me. And I’m sorry.”

City Manager Spencer Cronk acknowledged that communication should have happened by text, and Watson promised a swift after action report to look into what he deemed a “persistent” problem.

Austin Energy has restored 182,000 households’ power since the beginning of the event, but there are 122,000 to go, a number Austin Energy GM Jackie Sargent says may fluctuate due to things like cold load pickup (when circuits are overwhelmed by power coming back on suddenly). Austinites can avoid this by turning off and unplugging appliances if the power is out.

Austin Water has been operating as normal for the most part, though some substations are running on generators and Westlake Hills is under a boil water notice (Travis County and AW are providing drinking water).

Sargent said AE is “cautiously optimistic” about restorations picking up as the number of repeated outages are slowing down due to fewer trees falling. Austin Resource Recovery Director Ken Snipes said private sector crews brought on to help clear debris have to be certified in order to get FEMA reimbursement; those will come online Monday. A real-time map of where crews are working to clear debris will be live soon on the ARR website, but people should call 311 in the meantime to report tree damage.

Though Watson stressed that better vegetation management should be a priority in the future – not only for situations like this but also as a wildfire mitigation tactic – Sargent seemed to disagree, saying the storm was “well beyond what we can address with vegetation management”; even a half inch of ice can add as much as 500 pounds to a power line. EMS Assistant Chief Wes Hopkins said there are no stats yet on deaths from the storm, but there have been 10 calls for carbon monoxide exposure affecting 32 people. Most were running generators in their garages to warm up.

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