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Day 4: Thousands without power in TX

We have been in Austin since January 25, and I have been documenting our time - food, culture, restaurants, etc. I wrote about our journey from Los Angeles to Austin, explored the area to see how Austin has exploded, different areas of Austin and its suburbs, and also about the food scene. I have to tell you, we love Austin, and we will be back. If you have plans to visit, don't cancel them now - In a few weeks, the temperature will be wayy higher and things will be back to normal.

But right now, Austin is not the best place to be, and weather permitting, we will probably head out of here this weekend and continue our journey outta this state to my cousin's home in Atlanta, GA. Lets start here. I recorded this video of Anya and Puneet - so much happiness after we picked up hot coffee for us, hot chocolate for Anya and some warm vegetable stew!

This week has been one of those once-in-a-lifetime events. The Historic Winter Invasion. That's what Weather Channel is calling this winter storm.. It is Wednesday afternoon as I am starting to write this blog. We actually finally have access to a TV and to power, water and to heat in a hotel some thirty miles from Austin. Took us only 50 hours to get to this state of nirvana.

OK - today is Thursday. We have not lost power or water. It is snowing outside. We feel so spoiled and totally guilty knowing we are the lucky ones. We could work today in the hotel. We had warm food, life is good.

Let me share how this journey has been so far.

We started looking for a hotel on Wednesday morning. After much searching, we found and booked a hotel in San Antonio, 90-minutes away from Austin. Once we got to San Antonio, we were told that the city had just turned off the hotel's running water. We canceled that booking, no penalty and then made our way to another hotel in a small German town called New Braunfels. So, that's where we are right now, and we are OK. We have food we can cook in our Instant Pot, we just bought water from the local Walgreens (last few bottles, crazy!) and we have wine.

It has been an interesting few days. We woke on Monday morning with no power and a slightly cold home. We thought the power would be intermittent so we had planned our grocery visit on Thursday and we had everything we needed for a week.

Anya enjoyed the snow for a little bit, but then she was done.

The power didn't come back that day, or on Tuesday or on Wednesday. The house got cooler and it got harder to sleep comfortably at night. There was no problem with water but the water was too cold to shower. The stove in our AirBnB was electric so we could not cook any food.

We thought - Maybe we just venture out and find some hot food if any places were open? Just by the entrance we found a young lady trying to get her car out of a ditch, Her truck tires were stuck. Puneet went to help. Two other men stepped up too. It was so cold that in 20 minutes, Anya just wanted to go home. She was done running around and rolling in the snow, so we did and Puneet followed soon after. We abandoned the idea of hot food.

Later that afternoon, we thought the roads looked better so we decided to pull the car out but in 5 minutes, we turned out around with the realization that the roads were like an ice-skating ring for cars. The city has not treated any of the roads. No mowers came to the street to clean until Tuesday afternoon so we were basically stuck indoors until then, no coffee, no hot food, no heat. But we were thankful for water.

On Tuesday afternoon, after Puneet heard the mowers cleaning the street, we thought it was time to venture out again. There were more cars on the road so that gave us the confidence to be brave. The lines in the grocery stores were long (not many were open). We thought we may find some prepared food at HEB, but the line was an hour long. The line at Trader Joe's was longer and people were waiting outside for an hour in 10 F weather. We found one coffee shop that also served vegetable stew so we decided to go for that instead. Best idea ever! Also, this is where we got some signal so we could check our messages and update our friends on FaceBook about what was going on in Austin.

Our apartment was in South Lamar, just a few blocks from downtown Austin which actually had power the whole time. The city of Austin's energy department explained in tweets that some areas that have power are close to big hospitals, warming stations or other critical areas. But people were understandably furious! We spend much time reading tweets while charging our devices in the car. Austin Energy was ready to distribute power but the state authority, ERCOT had restricted them. While the downtown areas was lit, entire neighborhoods were without power for 50+ hours and counting. Old age homes had no power! Just a sad situation.

Few observations and thoughts I want to note:

  • Sliver lining: Sharing what was going on with us with a FB update made us realize we were not alone. That people were vouching for us and that a few friends across Texas were going through something similar. I heard from people I hadn't heard from in years. We also had each other - best family bonding time ever!

  • Positive attitude: This is essential. We had conversations with Anya about the things we were grateful for. We had a roof over our heads, we had cold food, we had a car to charge our devices and to warm ourselves. We had family members who messaged us several times a day.

  • Good people everywhere: We heard on the radio that one good Samaritan alone rescued 90 cars in one day with his big truck. We knocked on a stranger's door to request a can opener and she packed us a care package with pretzels, water, toilet paper, kitchen rolls and fruit.

  • Must-haves: The Instant Pot is a great invention. So is a Brita jug. And so are flashlights, candles & hand-cranked radios. Always pack extra underwear when traveling and keep blankets, headache pills and non-perishable food in the car. Crossword puzzles for kids are actually fun for adults too. Never miss an opportunity to fill your gas tank. Invest in a tiny cooler - it comes handy! So do de-icers and scrapers.

  • Social media know-how's: Have an Instagram account to follow stores and their updates. Most stores and restaurants post opening / closing and other details on Instagram now. Also, know how to use Twitter - City updates are easiest to follow via Twitter and via hashtags, you can quickly learn about public sentiment. You don't even need an account!

  • Weak Infrastructure: The city of Austin was quite unprepared for this freezing rain and snow event. With 150+ people moving to Austin daily, this city does not have the infrastructure to handle a disaster. It is insane to think that the Texas power grid was on the verge of collapse., and that this state had learned nothing from its past mistakes and from other states. Maybe Elon Musk should do something about energy in Austin, now that he is moving here? Also, lots of conversations around frozen windmills and how wind energy was not the way to go in an oil-state!

  • Global warming and climate change are real - It is always a good time to reiterate this!

  • Hot food and coffee are definitely more fun than wine!


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