Warming up in cars, leaning on friends: Austin faces another night without power as resources dwindle
Jimena Gamboa Bonilla grew up in Houston, so she says she's familiar with natural disasters. When her power went out early Monday morning, the Barton Hills resident turned her faucets to a drip, filled up some water bottles in case of burst pipes and began covering her windows for some insulation.
"I'm concerned about the situation right now," she told Austonia. "But I'm really concerned about what's going to happen with the water later this week."
By 5 p.m. on Monday, Gamboa Bonilla realized that her power wasn't likely to return and made a last-minute effort to escape her place, where the internal temperature was in the thirties. Aware of the risks of driving, she mapped out a route that avoided hills. But while trying to cross I-35, her car spun out. "I miraculously skidded toward the side of the road," she said.
Gamboa Bonilla called a friend who lived nearby, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Because her car was in a relatively safe spot, she left it to walk to her friend's apartment. "I'm so grateful she said."
Jimena Gamboa Bonilla, left, is staying with her friend in Capitol Hill until it is safe for her to return to her Barton Hills home. (Jimena Gamboa Bonilla)
Nearly 200,000 Austin Energy customers are without power, and the local utility has said they should be prepared for the outage to continue through Tuesday night—and perhaps longer. As a result, many residents are stuck in near-freezing homes, unable to leave because of the snow or iced-over roads, and concerned about their and others' safety.
Bill Kibler's power went out early Monday morning. Thanks to a working fireplace, he was able to heat his home to around 60 degrees. A gas stove allowed for tea and warmed up leftovers. His kitchen sink pipes have frozen but not yet burst. On Tuesday morning, he was "rescued" by his son-in-law who had borrowed a car with four-wheel drive. "Now doing fine in their heated and on the grid home in Circle C," he wrote in an email.
Not everyone has been able to find shelter elsewhere.
John Dwyer lives in a Northwest Hills duplex on a steep hill that is "impossible to navigate." He has been shuttling back and forth between his home and his car, where he can warm up and charge his cell phone. "We burned everything that was combustible last night to keep the temp inside the duplex 41 degrees as we attempted to sleep under a mountain of blankets, waking to almost freezing temperature inside and having to again move to the car," he wrote in an email.
Dwyer is concerned because it seems unlikely that his power will be restored by Wednesday, when his cars will have run out of gas. "To say we're enraged by (a) state government that would allow this to happen is a gross understatement!" he added.
Local officials recommend that people without power stay inside, dress in layers and use flashlights and battery-operated lanterns rather than candles and kerosene lanterns, which can carry fire risks and fume hazards. They also say that generators should not be used indoors.
Austin Travis County EMS is on track to receive more than 1,000 calls on Tuesday for the second day in a row. Since Monday, the agency has received at least 22 calls related to carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. Other noteworthy trends include falls, exposure and collisions.
#ATCEMS is again poised to break the 1,000 call for service mark today! As of noon we have received 524 calls. Noteworthy: Falls-48, Exposures-26, Carbon Monoxide-9, & Collisions-6. By eliminating preventable calls for service we can respond to higher priority medical emergencies pic.twitter.com/RiUfFlWogR
— ATCEMS (@ATCEMS) February 16, 2021
Austinites are also concerned about their loved ones, especially those with medical conditions that require electric devices.
Tom Banning lives in the Allendale neighborhood and lost power around 3 a.m. on Monday morning. Yesterday afternoon, his household relocated to his mom's house. But he remains concerned about his 80-year-old aunt, who lives in a local assisted living facility that is also without power. "There is a reason she and others live in assisted living," he wrote in an email. "It's because they need help."
The city of Austin has opened three additional warming centers since Monday, bringing the current total to four. But space remains limited and officials are asking residents who can remain home, even without power, to free up room for vulnerable individuals or those with medical needs.
Although Gamboa Bonilla is "so grateful" that she has found a safe haven at her friend's place, she doesn't expect to return home until the weekend—at the earliest. And she is worried about how elderly people and Austin's homeless population will survive another night in the cold, especially given the number of sirens she heard last night.
"It's truly heartbreaking," she said.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Austin's first major league team is ready to extend its reach with a new collaborative sports complex The Pitch, an Austin FC destination packed with local food, beverages and Verde fervor is set to open in Northeast Austin in February.
The Pitch, a collaboration between Austin FC and Karlin Real Estate, among other entities, will be located in the 50-acre Parmer Pond District, which already hosts the club's practice facility St. David's Performance Center.
Dubbed a "true destination" for both soccer fans and the community, The Pitch will consist of multilevel shipping containers designed by Mark Odom Studio that will carve out into a 1,200-seat stadium complete with a soccer pitch made of turf, food and beverage options and a five-acre "Parmer Pond" featuring jogging trails.
Made from multilevel shipping containers, The Pitch will include food and a 1,200-seat soccer pitch made from artificial turf. (The Pitch)
“The launch of Karlin’s new food and entertainment experience will greatly enhance the Parmer development while perfectly complimenting St. David’s Performance Center,” Austin FC founder Anthony Precourt said. "The Pitch... will offer a strong variety of food options and gathering spaces for guests who will utilize St. David’s Performance Center and Parmer Field for a variety of events.”
The Pitch project lead Dave Greeley, who helped come up with the concept, is a former president of Austin FC parent company, Two Oak Ventures.
“The vision behind The Pitch at the Parmer Pond District is to be a first-of-its-kind sports, dining and entertainment destination,” said Dave Greeley, The Pitch project lead and Team Orbis president. “This will be an unmatched experience for Parmer Austin tenants, Austin FC and club supporters, and the community."
With its proximity to the practice center, the venture hopes to contribute to the growing "soccer city" of Austin during Austin FC matches and youth games with the Austin FC Academy hosted at the St. David's Performance Center.
The Pitch hopes to converge both community and club interests with Austin FC. (The Pitch)
In addition to the soccer pitch, stadium and pond, The Pitch will provide a foody experience made by the creative team behind Austin staples like Fareground and Easy Tiger. The complex will offer local bites including:
- Ranger Burger, which offers beers and burgers made from highly-coveted Wagyu beef direct from Ranger Cattle in East Austin
- Ga Roti, which merges flavors from Northern Vietnam with the culinary techniques of France to create a unique rotisserie chicken joint
- Taco Flats, a local taco chain serving Mexico City-style tacos, micheladas and more
- Sand Bar, which fulfills its namesake with beauty cocktails, local beers and a sand volleyball court
- Coffee Club, a coffee shop and bakery
- Corner Kick Bar, the soccer-focused main bar of The Pitch complete with "tunes, TVs and (a) beer garden"
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