Looking back at the 2021 ice storm one year later
On the one-year anniversary, we're taking a look back at what happened and checking in with some of the people who were hit the hardest.
One year ago, a deadly winter storm blew through Texas, bringing snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
More than 200 people died and millions lost power.
On the one-year anniversary, we're taking a look back at what happened and checking in with some of the people who were hit the hardest.
A timeline of what happened during the 2021 ice storm in Austin:
Outages began Sunday, Feb. 14, with about 110,000 homes and businesses losing electricity.
At the peak of the power outages, on Monday, Feb. 15, more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses were without power. That's more than 30% of customers.
Rolling outages continued through the week.
Four days later, nearly half a million homes and businesses were still without power.
In the aftermath of the storm, many Central Texas communities experienced water issues. Many pipes froze or burst, causing people to be out of water for days on end.
For those who did have water, they were advised to boil it. The entire city of Austin was under a boil water notice due to the temporary power loss at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, and water pressure dropping below minimum standards.
The boil water notice lasted for six days.
On the first anniversary of the February 2021 winter storm, KVUE meteorologists Hunter Williams and Shane Hinton broke down the storm's timeline:
The City of Austin recently had another boil water notice, which happened right after another much less severe winter storm in 2022. However, that boil water notice didn't have anything to do with the weather.
Residents at one apartment complex are still dealing with issues from the 2021 storm one year later.
Some apartment tenants still missing walls one year after the storms:
Some Rosemont at Oak Valley tenants in southeast Austin are just now moving back into their homes, months after their apartments were damaged by the snowstorms in 2021.
But some residents at the affordable housing complex did not have the option to temporarily move out and are still living with damage that includes missing interior walls and large holes in ceilings.
The KVUE Defenders took a closer look at what's being done to help the tenants.
A hole in his bathroom ceiling doesn't rattle Derek Rubio, but a missing wall behind a toilet is what nightmares are made of.
"What worries me is that there are some critters coming out," Rubio said of possible worst-case scenarios.
With half the wall gone, he fears it's an entrance for rodents or other critters escaping the cold.
"In my mind, I'm thinking that ... I'm like, 'I better hurry up,'" Rubio said.
That hole is like others KVUE saw throughout his apartment.
All of them are covered with plastic and duct tape after apartment maintenance cut out partial walls and ceilings that were damaged with water and mold.
Rubio said some were caused by the winter storm, while others were there before.
In another bathroom, Rubio told KVUE's Jenni Lee how not having a wall has made for uncomfortable moments.
Jenni Lee: "Can you hear?" (Gestures through the missing wall and the next room.)
Derek Rubio: "Oh, yeah ... We actually have a conversation sometimes."
Jenni: "Oh, my God. Give me some more toilet paper!"
Derek: "No, seriously!"
But the missing walls near his front door are no laughing matter.
"You can see through them," Rubio said.
He said he can see and hear his neighbors through the area where the wall once stood. Not to mention how cold it gets inside his apartment when the temperature drops outside. That's why he bought a magnetic curtain to try to keep the cold air out.
"It's ridiculous ... This isn't a livable condition," Rubio said.
But these conditions are how Rubio, a cancer survivor, his mother and 12-year-old son, have been living for months.
"Very unsafe," Rubio said.
It's not just Rubio. In a neighbor's apartment, several opossums were caught after coming through the plastic.
Pictures of another apartment at Rosemont show missing walls and holes in ceilings.
It's unclear just how many apartments have similar conditions.
"What is happening to these tenants is horrific," Gabby Garcia said.
Garcia is the project coordinator for Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, or BASTA, an advocacy group for renters.
The nonprofit group has been trying to help residents at Rosemont at Oak Valley with their housing issues for months.
"These tenants have been through so much, and so much of this could be fixed with just transparency, accountability, and they've done none of that. They just continue to not tell tenants what's happening," Garcia said.
Garcia said most tenants are too scared to talk about their issues on camera for fear of retribution from apartment management, but not Kecia Prince.
"Who lives without walls for that long?" Prince asked.
We first met Prince a year ago when water from the winter storm soaked her ceiling, walls and floors.
"It was buckling and the walls were buckling," Prince described her apartment in February of 2021.
But months later in July, Prince and 86 other families received vacate letters. Rosemont management cited necessary repairs, caused by the winter storm, as the reason. Renters had until the end of the month to move out.
"So, that doesn't give me enough time, even if I want to move somewhere else, because I tried to look for an apartment, but there's nothing available," said Delores Picardo, another Rosemont resident.
Days later, neighbors took their concerns to Travis County commissioners, who unanimously voted to halt the evictions and support the tenants.
Forty-one of the 87 families ended up moving out.
Photos: Damage left at Rosemont apartment complex one year after 2021 freeze
Even after commissioners intervened, frustrations continued for tenants.
Residents said communication problems and repair issues persisted.
In December, BASTA held a press conference after Rosemont's owners, the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), released a statement: All repairs were complete and residents were moving back in.
BASTA and residents couldn't believe it.
"Today, we're here to shine [a] light on the fact that SHFC is trying to sweep all this under the rug and continuing to say trust us, trust us, trust us, yet reality says something different," said BASTA's Project Director Shosanda Krieger.
BASTA said it hired a mold remediation company and tested two apartments that had undergone repairs. The group said both tests discovered mold.
"We've never committed ourselves to addressing the issues specifically related to mold," said Patrick Howard, the vice president of SHFC.
SHFC owns Rosemont and 13 other affordable housing units in Travis County. And while SHFC is a nonprofit, it's not a traditional one. It doesn't pay any taxes but it does own some for-profit affordable housing complexes. Not Rosemont.
Howard said he has been trying to educate Rosemont residents that the insurance money the company has received only allows for repairs related to the winter storm, not issues that were present before, like some of the mold.
"So, we're not suggesting that there is no mold anywhere because, obviously, there is mold and we'll address that. But we're addressing the issues related to moisture from the storm, which means you can move back into your unit because it is safe," Howard said.
KVUE'S Jenni Lee asked Howard about the tenants' health.
"What about all the health issues people are having as a result of the moisture, maybe, perhaps mold as well? What are they supposed to do if it's uninhabitable and some of the children are having health issues as well? What are they supposed to do about that?" Lee asked.
Howard said they are working with the few tenants who do have immediate mold issues. As for residents like Rubio, living with partial interior walls and ceilings, Howard said they are working on those apartments as fast as they can.
But until then, Prince said she won't stop fighting for her neighbors.
"They go home to safe mold-free apartments every night, and all we get is more promises and more promises and more promises," Prince said.
That is how she got herself appointed to one of the two new tenant positions on the SHFC Board of Directors in January – an effort she has been spearheading for months.
During a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, we saw her appointment.
"I want to thank y'all for putting tenants on the board. I think that's something that's going to be epic," Prince said during the video conferencing version of the meeting.
It is an effort Travis County leaders recognize and hope will make a difference.
"I don't ever again want there to be such a disconnect between the board and court, and I hope you take the opportunity to help educate us as to what you see and what you believe needs to happen there," Commissioner Ann Howard said.
In January, we accompanied Prince on a walk-through of her recently repaired apartment. As of Feb. 7, she has yet to move back into Rosemont. The mother of one said she has no intention of it either until she's satisfied the unit is safe, especially after everything she's been through.
"How much more patience do we need?" Prince asked.
Prince and the second Rosemont tenant appointed to the SHFC board are expected to start at March's meeting.
Prince said their appointments will go a long way in protecting tenant rights.
According to Austin Code, there were 40 cases resulting from Winter Storm Uri damages and 10 of those cases are currently open.
Because of severe winter damage, there are currently no available units at Rosemont, according to the apartment's website.
Story by KVUE's Jenni Lee.
Walking a mile in a nurse's shoes:
Nursing can be unpredictable.
"I started in 2020, in May of 2020," said nurse Brooke Wilson.
That's the year when the word "unprecedented" became the norm.
"It was it was pretty chaotic," Wilson said. "Everyone does what they have to do just to keep everything running."
Putting one foot in front of the other, Wilson is now living her passion: delivering babies at St. David's Women's Center of Texas.
On the morning of Feb. 15, 2021, she realized just how far that passion would take her.
"This is how much snow it brought in at Camp Mabry," said KVUE Chief Meteorologist Erika Lopez when the storm hit. "6.4 inches of snow. That means we haven't seen that much snow since 1949. That's 72 years."
"I knew that most people would be calling out and that if I could get in, then I should," Wilson said. "The snow doesn't stop babies from being born, and they just keep coming."
With roads covered with ice and snow, Wilson had to make a decision.
"I didn't think much more about it," Wilson said. "I just kind of put on my shoes and I had an old jacket that had duct tape on it."
Wilson made the two-mile trek to work on what's typically a busy Parmer Lane.
"It was dead silent," she said. "So, it was a little bit eerie. Then the more I walk, like my shoes got soaking wet and then the snow was up past my ankles."
"I was like, I just got to keep going," Wilson said.
An hour later, she could finally let out a sigh of relief.
"So, then I made it," she said. "Maybe an hour before my shift started and all of my coworkers were sitting there from night shift and they were asking how I got there. I just mentioned that I walked and they all lost it because they didn't understand why I would walk in the snow."
Of course, she did it to help care for the patients.
"I have some patients that I still keep in touch with that were delivering their babies and trying to figure out how to make plans to get home afterward," Wilson said.
But she did it even more so for her coworkers.
"Just because some of them have been here for a couple of days and, you know, we've been working in a pandemic. We're all tired," she said.
Almost a year into the pandemic, they were tired but resilient when the storm hit.
"I mean, my walk was difficult, but I wasn't nine months pregnant about to have a baby," Wilson said. "So, I can imagine that it was a little bit more stressful for most of the people that I was caring for. Overall, everyone was just grateful that we showed up, though."
She continues to show up a year later, putting one foot in front of the other, prepared for the unexpected.
Story by KVUE's Daranesha Herron.
'Monica and Mom' supply hot, home-cooked meals to community in need:
For Enriqueta Maldonado, cooking is a love language.
That's because a home-cooked meal from her heart and hands is special.
KVUE's Jake Garcia got to experience that first-hand when she prepared him tostadas while KVUE shot this story. Garcia said he also knew that one year ago, the food would've meant even more.
"My mom definitely was a hero in this," Enriqueta Maldonado's daughter, Monica Maldonado, said, while also acknowledging she had spent practically her whole life preparing for a moment like this. "She worked in the cafeteria for the school district. She has always cooked in large quantities. When the winter storm happened, it was so natural for her."
The February freeze hit their neighborhood hard.
"We're in Dove Springs. We know it's an underserved community, and we can't wait for someone to get resources to us," Monica Maldonado said.
So, they took matters into their own hands.
"It was ground beef, potatoes, beans and noodles, and we also made tacos too," Enriqueta Maldonado told Garcia in Spanish.
"It may have ended up being like 80 to 100 pounds of ground beef," Monica Maldonado said.
Enriqueta Maldonado said she'd wake up at 5 a.m. each morning during that week and spend all day cooking. She eventually cooked so much that she ran out of supplies.
"So, I contacted the church and I said, 'Hey, I have some people who have vehicles. Are you willing to give us your food?'" Monica Maldonado said.
"For us, it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to bless our community," said Eddie Jackson, a pastor at Teri Road Baptist Church.
"We pulled up and they literally emptied their pantry into our vehicles," Monica Maldonado said.
Now that they were armed with a tireless cook and truckloads of food, their next goal was to reach as many people as possible. So, they enlisted the help of Dez Bermea, the founder of Do Good ATX.
"I was on my laptop dispatching people," Bermea said. "Like OK, this person filled out a form saying that they need help, this is where they live, this is what they need."
All told, the group prepared hundreds of meals and helped thousands of people.
One year later, they're reflecting on their work.
"That same thing could've happened to us," Enriqueta Maldonado said. "And we would've wanted other people to help us if we were in that situation."
"It's emotional because you read it and all you can sense is the desperation," Enriqueta Maldonado said, as she scrolled through Facebook messages from a year ago.
The desperation, however, was met with compassion and community.
"Growing up in a Hispanic family, you're taught that these people around you are all you have, and these people around you are who you need to take care of," Bermea said.
The time will forever be remembered for the freezing weather.
Yet the hot, home-cooked meals meant everything.
"Love was really put into making the meal," Monica Maldonado said. "Forever, I'll remember the faces of the people we served."
Story by KVUE's Jake Garcia.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: