How Nextdoor saved my family during last week’s deep freeze in Texas


Commentary: My family members were stranded without power amid 6 inches of snow and freezing temperatures — until Nextdoor and a stranger came to the rescue.
I was delighted last Monday to wake up to a beautiful 6 inches of snow blanketing my world. After all these years, my two teenagers would finally experience a day of real winter in Austin, Texas. I imagined all of the fun ahead.

Then I turned on my phone.
My ex-husband, David, had texted at 2:30 a.m. to tell me that his power was out as part of planned rolling outages. I texted back, asking when his power had returned. His response: It was still out. This was just before 9 a.m., and the temperature was in the low teens.
I started to worry.
David lives on one side of a duplex. My 18-year-old daughter, Shoshana, lives on the other side with two housemates, a bearded dragon and a kitten. Two friends had also spent the night.

The rolling outages had failed. They were supposed to last less than an hour to help keep the Texas power grid up and running. But once an outage kicked in, it lasted for days.

Austin wasn’t alone. A massive snowstorm and record-breaking cold hit Texas over the long weekend, overwhelming the power grid and cutting power to millions of people for days. A widespread water crisis struck next as frozen pipes burst and water treatment plants failed. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster and authorized the federal government to provide aid.

I didn’t know any of this at the time. But the 6 inches of snow suddenly looked very different to me.

Austin doesn’t get snow. In my 19 years here, we’d gotten a few dustings of ice crystals that native Texans call snow. Once we got a quarter inch of actual snow that quickly disappeared. As far as I know, Austin doesn’t have any snow plows. I told David to head to my place immediately with the kids, but he didn’t think he could get out of the driveway in his Kia Soul, let alone drive anywhere.

He was trying to save his phone battery and asked me to call 311 to see when the power would return. I tried 311. It was down. I tried the city website. It was down too. I needed to figure out which streets were passable. Shoshana and David only live 10 minutes away on a normal day. They now seemed completely out of reach.

I started to panic.

Picking them up in my Nissan Rogue was my first thought, but I felt very iffy about this plan. I don’t have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. I was so worried that I suddenly decided to do something I’d never done before. I sent out an urgent alert on Nextdoor, the social network organized by neighborhood.

“Urgent alert. Road status in southwest Austin? I need to get from Escarpment/Davis to Westgate/Davis to get family members who haven’t had power since 2:30 am. I am just afraid of getting stuck. Does anyone know which main roads are drivable?” I wrote read more

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