One couple in Austin shared how they're keeping warm in the 'horrifying' power outage that knocked out heat for millions in Texas

Kelly McLaughlin
·7 min read
Rikta Patel and Connor Crawford (center), with their fireplace, left, and snow outside, right.
Rikta Patel and Connor Crawford alongside images of their fireplace and snow outside. Rikta Patel
  • Power failures have plagued Texas for days after a cold blast overwhelmed the state's power grid.

  • As of Wednesday, nearly 3 million people were still without power in the state.

  • One couple called the event "horrifying" as they tried to stay warm in their apartment.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Millions across Texas are still without power after a cold blast knocked out major parts of the state's power grid.

The winter storm over the long weekend sent temperatures plunging across Texas, and local officials have told some residents they should be prepared to go without power through Wednesday, possibly longer.

At least 20 people have died from weather-related incidents this week in the US. In Texas, the deaths included two men who officials believe froze to death, a woman and a child who were poisoned by carbon monoxide after using their car to generate heat, and a grandmother and three children who perished in a fire.

And with no end in sight for the power failures, Texans are trying to stay warm by any means necessary.

For one couple in Austin, power has been out for 61 hours.

Rikta Patel, 29, and her boyfriend, Connor Crawford, 26, lost power at 2 a.m. on Monday and used their fireplace to keep warm. By Tuesday, they were running low on wood.

"We have moved our mattress from the bedroom to the living room and built a fort by the fireplace," Patel told Insider in an email.

Millions of Texans lost power in the cold

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 3 million people were without power in Texas, according to, down from the more than 4 million affected over Monday and Tuesday.

President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency, giving Texas aid for sheltering and mass care, and the Department of Energy issued its own emergency order Monday allowing Texas power plants to produce more electricity to help with the loss of power.

Pedestrians walk on an icy road on February 15, 2021 in East Austin, Texas.
Pedestrians on an icy road on Monday in East Austin, Texas. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

But the storm exposed issues with Texas' power grid and revealed the state is not particularly prepared for colder weather.

The grid suffered in several ways - colder weather meant higher demand for power as Texans used electric furnaces to warm their homes, and power plants simply failed as natural-gas resources started to freeze and the state's electricity generators weren't prepared for winter.

Wind turbines and solar panels, which create a small share of Texas' energy, also seemingly failed when they iced over.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees most of Texas' power grid, said Wednesday that power disruptions might continue for an unknown amount of time.

Patel said she and Crawford started preparing for the storm Saturday after Crawford received an email from the University of Texas at Austin, where he works, saying the college would be closed through at least Thursday.

Before they lost power, the couple charged all of their external batteries to keep their phones and computers charged, filled every jug and vessel they had with water, opened cabinets to keep pipes from freezing, boiled some eggs, and filled up their car with gas.

Temperatures inside homes are still dropping

Crawford said the temperature in their apartment hovered near 56 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday but by Tuesday night had dropped to 43 degrees.

Crawford and Patel checked on neighbors and said their condo complex was inviting vulnerable residents to keep warm at a gas fireplace in its clubhouse - the only gas line in the building.

Cawford and Patel moved their bed to the living room, using battery operated lights to light the space.
Crawford and Patel moved their bed to the living room while using battery-operated lights. Rikta Patel

"We were told there'd be rolling blackouts," Patel said. "I figured that they would only shut the power off for a little bit but it would eventually turn back on. Sadly I was wrong. Connor and I have dreamingly made plans for what we would do if the power came back on. Top of my list is a hot shower."

Crawford compared the environment in their home to a "very cold camping trip."

"Theoretically, as long as one has food and water and enough blankets, you can ride out pretty low temperatures," he said. "Even if we had no wood and the apartment was 30 degrees inside, I feel confident that we could last as long as we had food and water for an indefinite amount of time. We wouldn't be comfortable, but we would for sure survive."

Crawford's family using their grill to melt ice
Crawford's family using their grill to melt ice. Rikta Patel

Late Tuesday night they opted to drive to Crawford's parents' house 40 minutes west in Dripping Springs. Their power is out too, but Patel said they had a gas grill to cook food on.

Elsewhere in Texas, just north of Dallas a woman who asked to be identified only as Essence for privacy told Insider she had been affected by rolling blackouts - a controlled loss of power meant to keep the overall system intact - since Monday.

She said she'd lost power in two- to six-hour increments.

"We didn't prepare because we haven't known Texas to get this bad," she said of the storm. "Myself in particular, I'm not from here. It gets bad like this in North Carolina, but I never thought it would be like this in Texas."

She said that she's grateful her power hadn't entirely gone out and that she'd been staying under blankets and lighting candles to stay warm.

Others told The Texas Tribune they had burned their children's toys to stay warm, driven to friends' houses, and sought refuge at shelters.

Several people told The Tribune they were concerned about how the outages were affecting their medical devices, including access to oxygen tanks and the function of dialysis machines.

Texas' governor called for the main power operator to resign

Among officials and Texas residents, there's been finger-pointing in every direction in deciding who's to blame for the dire situation in the state.

Some people told The Tribune they blamed the state for its unpreparedness, while politicians have blamed the power operator.

Gov. Greg Abbott has criticized ERCOT's handling of the cold blast, calling for the organization's leadership to resign over its "failures."

texas weather
Roads were covered with snow and sleet on Monday in Spring, Texas. David J. Phillip/AP

"The priority for us now, whatever the future holds, is for us to get the power back on. Obviously this has been a tremendously difficult situation for Texans," ERCOT's senior director of system operations, Dan Woodfin, told reporters on a call Wednesday. "I think the assessment of how we did can be done once we get the power back on. But the initial decision to have outages imposed was a wise decision by the operators here. If we had waited and not reduced demand, we could have drifted toward a blackout - not just outages - and it could take months or longer to rebuild that."

Crawford, who was born and raised in Austin, told Insider he expected rolling blackouts during the storm but didn't anticipate such a widespread loss of power across the state.

Crawford called it "horrifying" that millions of people in Texas were left without heat on some of the coldest days in decades in parts of the state.

He said he understood why the power grid had collapsed, especially when it's near impossible to winterize a power grid within a week's notice, but still criticized the lack of organization by state leadership.

"Failing to communicate to those without power WHY they have no power and WHAT they are doing to fix it is simply inexcusable," Crawford said. "The fact that I have gathered much more information on the Austin subreddit and Twitter about the storm, power updates, and infrastructure updates is an abysmal failure by the leadership of our State, power company, and ERCOT."

Read the original article on Insider