Sam Pitasky is a light sleeper. So when his noise machine cut out around 2 a.m. on Monday morning, he woke up.
Like more than 40% of Austin Energy customers, Pitasky, 29, and his wife, Maddy Sembler, 31, were facing a power outage.
The couple got up and went into the backyard of their Hyde Park home, where their three chickens—two goldens named Abbi and Ilana and black-and-white Eleanor Roosevelt—live in a homemade enclosure. They moved the chickens into the bathtub, which is now filled with hay.
"If the power hadn't gone out, they might not have made it," Pitasky told Austonia.
By 6 a.m., it seemed clear to them the outage was not a rolling one, and he texted a couple they are friends with to see if they had power. After hearing back a couple hours later, he and Sembler tried to decide if it was safe to drive to nearby North Loop. With four-wheel drive and few cars on the road, they decided to go for it—and arrived at their friends' condo around 10 a.m.
"Things like this have been happening a lot this year," Sembler said.
A common experience
The couple isn't alone in trying to make sure their pets, property and selves are safe. By Monday evening, more than 212,387 Austin Energy customers were without power, slightly more than earlier in the day, and many took to social media to share updates and, in some cases, concerns.
Historic Austin winter storm, closed stores, dangerously icy roads, and power outage lasting from 2am this morning to tomorrow afternoon all got me in survivor mode. Gotta enjoy the view at least pic.twitter.com/iNuaj8AFZO
— AJ Maguddayao (@azn_pinoy_95) February 15, 2021
Have been without power since I guess 2 a.m.? Have been relying on battery-operated radio and access to internet has been impossible. Idk if this tweet will send tbh.
— Estefanía de León (@estefaniadeleon) February 15, 2021
We lost power at 1am last night and it hasn't been back! Austin is not rotating power outages, instead leaving certain areas on/off. It's 53 in our house but at least we have a fire place. I hope our food stays good. 🙃
— Kari Downing (@areyouKarina) February 15, 2021
And it won't melt most likely until Wednesday- and it's now difficult to distinguish between power outages and load shedding! Been out of power since mid-day and I know folks who've been out of power since 2Am,
Stay safe #ATX pic.twitter.com/hfWwXMJEf6
— Ganesh Padmanabhan (@_ganeshp) February 15, 2021
When city officials hosted a midday press conference on Facebook live, thousands of viewers commented. Some were worried about Austin's homeless residents and whether they had access to indoor shelter; others had family members with medical needs who were facing outages.
"It's 35° in our house... my son needs his oxygen back on and our E tanks are out ... we need our electricity turned on!" one woman wrote. "My mother is elderly and on oxygen - she hasn't had power since 2:00 AM!!! What is she supposed to do? I can't get to her," another commented.
By 6 p.m. Austin-Travis County EMS received more than 1,000 calls for service, and the Austin Police Department had issued a request to residents not to call 911 to report power outages so that people in need of immediate attention could get through.
The OMD has been sharing OLMC calls and telemed consults among 4 MDs and a PA, running calls in the field, performing ultrasounds, setting fractures, repairing lacerations, and generally trying to free @ATCEMS and @austinfiredept crews for the MANY emergency calls. pic.twitter.com/4ZghZ8i1lB
— ATCEMS OMD (@ATCEMSOMD) February 15, 2021
In addition to concerns about people and pets, more than two hundred Austinites also reported broken pipes on Monday, according to city data.
hi! i haven't had power in 12 hours, pipes are frozen, supplies are running low, and backup generators are barely keeping the phone network up. i feel like i'm in the last 5 minutes of THE THING. welcome to Austin
— robin leads a murder of crows (@robin7crows) February 15, 2021
Another day ahead
Local and state officials expect the power outages to continue through Tuesday and advise residents to stay home, conserve energy and avoid driving, especially after dark, until power can be restored and roadways are cleared.
Back at the Pitasky-Sembler residence, their chickens remain in the bathroom. The couple plans to return home on Tuesday to make sure they're safe and—hopefully—find that their power is back.
"We said it was weird that we were leaving the house and the chickens were staying," Pitasky said.
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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would rescind business capacity limits and a statewide masking mandate on Texas Independence Day, he framed it as a step forward. "With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," he said during a press conference at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock.
But some local restaurants and bars, which have been caught in the regulatory crosshairs since Texas' first positive COVID test 364 days ago, have chosen to ignore Abbott's overture. Instead, they will continue to maintain pandemic precautions once the executive order takes effect next week, citing a desire to keep their staff and patrons safe.
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(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Austonia has hired Claire Partain as a reporter covering Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will be Austin's first major league sports franchise.
Partain is a former sports editor for the The University Star, Texas State University's daily newspaper. She edited, covered sports, produced podcasts, and hosted a pre-game TXST football tailgate live series. Partain has been freelancing with the company since January, prior to accepting a staff position.
A native of Fairfield, Texas, Partain grew up playing youth soccer. In her high school years, she played alongside her mother in what was then called the Freestone County Hispanic Women's Soccer League.
Claire's coverage philosophy: "I like to bring out the humanity of sports, and I want to make this the most accessible sports coverage possible."
She notes that soccer is the predominant sport for young people. "It's a global sport, and we're more connected to the world than older generations."
That approach fits the team's already visible presence in Austin, says Austonia CEO Mark Dewey. "Austin FC has established itself as a leading Austin brand, one that stands for a more unified Austin community, a bigger global presence for Austin and fun. Austonia shares those values."
Partain's soccer coverage begins immediately, with her free, hosted text service—Austonia FC. For updates, special access and inside info, all moderated by Claire, sign up below.
Austonia is the city's independent, free, locally-owned and all-digital source for Austin news, information and entertainment.
Connect with Austonia through its daily email newsletter and text updates, @austonianews Instagram feed, @austonianews and @austinist Twitter feeds, @austonianews Facebook page and its website austonia.com.
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Austin Public Health will release another batch of first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Thursday on Wednesday evening. A department spokesperson estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 slots will be available.
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