Austin woman reflects on winter storm that took her sister’s life 1 year ago

It was 70 degrees, and not a cloud was in the sky on Monday...a stark contrast from what Central Texas looked like this time one year ago. More than 200 people across the state died due to many reasons related to the freeze, including hypothermia. 

Jo Carol Pierce's sister Cynthia was one of those deaths. She continues to grieve her loss. Cynthia was her confidant, someone she would see daily. "We miss her at family gatherings, there is a big piece missing from our lives that was there before," said Pierce.

Pierce said her sister was living at the Renaissance Assisted Living Facility when the freeze happened in February 2021. "All the households were just calling each other making sure we had adequate heat, blankets and food. We didn’t think about Cynthia because I thought she was in the most protective place," said Pierce.

But she said her sister died from hypothermia. "Her body temperature was 94 when they took her in. She was very frail, very thin, and she hated being cold more than anything in the world. It’s so hard to think of her being cold," said Pierce.

Pierce lost faith in her elected officials. She believes the failure of the electric grid could have been avoided had Texas been connected to the rest of the country. "Money and politics has kept change from happening. I see it as a contest between campaign contributions and our lives, my sister’s life," said Pierce.

Tuesday, the Austin City Council will be marking the anniversary of the tragedy with a proclamation and moment of silence.

"We wanted to come together to recognize the individuals, the partners the organizations that stepped up, but we want to also take a moment of silence to recognize those we lost in the winter storm," said Vanessa Fuentes, Austin City Council, District Two.

FOX 7 Austin reached out to Renaissance Austin about what happened to Cynthia, and they sent the following statement:

"Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our residents and associates. When Winter Storm Uri struck our area in February 2021, thousands across Texas lost power, including our Renaissance Austin community. As a result, our associates had to operate under extremely adverse conditions for several days. Our on-site emergency generator was designed to provide limited power, and heat was not able to be restored to the community until another generator was procured from a third party. Unfortunately, on February 17, during regular pre-dawn check-ins, our associates noticed that one of our residents was in distress. Our associates immediately took action and contacted emergency response personnel. Our resident was later transported to a local hospital where sadly she passed away. Our hearts go out to her family and to all those who knew and loved her.

Following the incident, we conducted our own internal investigation. As a result, and in working closely with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, we have taken a number of corrective actions including bolstering our emergency power systems and resources and updating and enhancing our communication plans with families and residents in the event of a natural disaster. Our national senior management team worked closely with Texas HHS to ensure that all corrective measures have been implemented.

Again, our hearts go out to this resident’s family and to all those who knew and loved her."

FOX 7 Discussion: How did Texas' power grid do this time around?
Winter storm in Central Texas: Look back on 1 year anniversary

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