Austin mayor apologizes for power crisis following ice storm
AUSTIN, Texas - Utility crews from other cities could be seen Friday morning trying to reconnect Austin's broken electrical power grid.
As that work continued, Austin mayor Kirk Watson provided a briefing that began with an apology.
"I apologize that we've let the people down in Austin. Providing clear and accurate and timely communication to the public is essential in an emergency like this. And once again, the city hasn't delivered. This has been a persistent challenge over the past several years, and public frustration is absolutely warranted. Over and over again, we see the same failure. So something will change" said Mayor Watson.
Getting power restored is the change many in Austin were still waiting for, including Melissa Mekosh who told FOX 7 Austin she has been relying on a back-up generator since Tuesday.
"My husband has ALS, is on life support. We are lucky in that we have a generator. But you have to be real careful about burning down the generator because there's only so much propane and when you're going to get it re-delivered and all of that stuff. So it's been rough," said Mekosh,
Generator use has caused problems. As of Friday morning, ATCEMS treated 32 people for carbon monoxide poisoning.
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"The most recent was a family who was running their car in their garage to keep warm. The garage door was open about a third of the way, and we had eight patients from that one call," said ATCEMS Division Chief Wes Hopkins.
Some emergency runs were difficult because several neighborhood roads were still partially blocked by fallen trees.
"It's not acceptable. But at least you can get out. Right. I mean, honestly, not until yesterday afternoon could I even get out. So. And I cleared half of I cleared part of our street myself. Me and my neighbor," said Austin resident Aged Mahr.
As of Friday morning, about 700 locations had not been reached by 20 debris removal crews deployed by the city. To help clear the streets, three private contracting companies were hired that are expected by Monday.
The city is getting additional help from the state forest service with strike teams similar to the specialized chainsaw crews used after hurricanes.
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"We're in a process of triaging the entire city. One of the tools at our disposal is to call 311. That helps us know where the most dire needs are in terms of our planning on the map and the mapping process," said Ken Snipes with Austin Resource Recovery.
Mayor Watson and Travis County Judge Andy Brown met Friday afternoon to announce twin disaster declarations. The action will help the city access state and federal recovery funds. A plan on how to properly get utility lines out of the tree canopy, a typically difficult discussion with Austin environmentalists, apparently is now in motion.
"We have to look at that not just, frankly, because of severe winter weather that can do damage, but from a wildfire perspective," said Mayor Watson. "Those are the kinds of things that this event has emphasized and, and perhaps allowed for a greater problem in Austin than maybe you've seen in other places that have less of a canopy or approach that in a different way. And we need to look at that."
Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly has introduced a resolution to audit Austin Energy's vegetation management plan. That review is to include how the utility handled this crisis.