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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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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."