AUSTIN, Texas — Crews from various City of Austin departments have been working around the clock to restore power to tens of thousands of residents and clear debris from area roads.
On Friday at 10 a.m., City officials provided an update on recovery efforts from the winter storm that slammed the Austin area this week.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson started the press conference by apologizing for continued communication issues.
"As mayor, I accept responsibility on behalf of the City, and I apologize that we've let the people down in Austin," Watson said, later adding, "Public frustration is absolutely warranted. Over and over again, we see the same failure. So something will change. You'll see that communication will be clear, frank and will happen in real time using any and all available techniques going forward."
Watch the press conference below:
Here's a breakdown of some of the major takeaways from Friday morning's press conference.
Power outage update
Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy, said that extensive damage from icing has slowed restoration efforts. However, as of Friday, Austin Energy is "cautiously optimistic" that it has turned a corner.
"As reflected on our outage map, the number of customers affected has begun to come down because our restoration numbers are going up while the number of repeated outages is going down," Sargent said. "Fewer trees are falling, which means repeated outages have slowed down."
Sargent asked customers without power to turn off their thermostats, turn off and unplug fixtures and appliances and only leave one light on to indicate when power has been restored. She said this will help prevent surges when power is restored.
Possible disaster declaration
Travis County Judge Andy Brown said that the County is looking into a possible disaster declaration to aid with recovery efforts. Brown said that whether Travis County and the City of Austin issue disaster declarations will depend on whether doing so will have a direct benefit to the community.
Brown said he will consult with Watson and frontline staff to come to a decision. He said he plans to make that decision by Friday afternoon.
"It is my top priority to ensure that Travis County has a robust and resilient recovery to this storm as soon as possible," Brown said.
Watson said before a disaster declaration can be made, an area has to hit certain thresholds on what kind of damage has been sustained and those thresholds are typically monetary. He said a disaster declaration hasn't made before now because that assessment of damage hasn't been able to be done prior to Friday due to the weather.
This week's winter storm covered Central Texas in ice that left a total of more than 300,000 customers without power since early Wednesday morning. Between that time and 7 a.m. Friday, power had been restored to 182,159 customers – or almost exactly 60% (59.89%).
As of 11:40 a.m. Friday, Austin Energy has 1,687 outages affecting 119,542 customers across the city. Crews continue to work to get the lights back on for everyone, but an estimated time for full restoration isn't clear. See the latest power outage updates.