Death Toll From Texas Winter Storm Continues to Rise
Epidemiologists examining causes of deaths reported from Feb. 11 to March 5 have added 59 deaths to the storm’s toll, bringing it to 210.,
The death toll from the freezing winter weather that battered Texas and caused widespread power outages this year has risen by 59, bringing the total to 210, officials said.
The human loss — of young and old, in urban and rural communities — has devastated families across Texas. The Department of State Health Services, which released the latest data on Tuesday, said the numbers could rise as epidemiologists examine the causes of deaths reported from Feb. 11 to March 5.
“The majority of confirmed deaths were associated with hypothermia,” the department said in a report. Other deaths were caused by vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, falls, fire, and exacerbation of chronic illnesses tied to the winter storm, it said.
The deaths took place across 60 counties, the data shows. The hardest hit were Harris County, with 43 confirmed storm deaths; Travis County, with 28; and Dallas, with 20.
Harris County, which includes Houston, is the state’s most populous county, with more than four million people, followed by Dallas County, with more than 2.6 million. Travis County, which includes Austin, the state capital, is the fifth most populous, with about 1.2 million people.
The winter storm swept across Texas in mid-February, plunging the state into freezing cold and pushing the power grid to the brink of collapse. Millions of residents were forced to boil water, use generators, huddle in idling cars for heat and scour for wood to feed fires during some of the most frigid weather recorded in state history.
Initial estimates for the death toll were 57 in mid-March, but the toll continued to climb as the months unfolded, reaching 111 at the end of the month, department figures show. It was revised twice in April until it reached 151.
Epidemiologists continue to scrutinize death certificates, linking causes of death to the storm, the department said. Another update will most likely come next month before the health department issues a final report, Douglas Loveday, a department spokesman, said on Wednesday.
The scale of loss ranked the storm far above other disasters in the state, even worse than Hurricane Harvey, which claimed at least 68 lives in 2017.
The fallout of the winter storm included calls for accountability from elected officials and the regulation-resistant power industry in Texas, the nation’s leading energy-producing state.
“People needed heat, people needed power and they didn’t have it for days,” Celeste Arredondo-Peterson, a director with the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group, said in an interview.
“The only word I can use is shock, shock that many people in the richest country in the world froze to death,” she said.
In San Antonio, Manuel M. Riojas, 64, struggled to breathe as power outages cut off the supply from an oxygen machine he had used since a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. He died in a hospital on Feb. 16, according to his family and an obituary.
In Conroe, about 40 miles north of Houston, Maria Elisa Pineda found her son, Cristian Pineda, 11, dead in his bed in mid-February. The medical examiner said that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Domingo Garcia, a lawyer who is representing Ms. Pineda in a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Rural areas were not spared. Days after Cristian was found dead, the authorities discovered the lifeless body of Pauline Dearing, 86, in her backyard in Abilene, in Taylor County, a mostly rural region in northern Texas where at least seven people died during the storm.
Temperatures had reached 5 degrees, their lowest since 1983 and a record for Abilene.
Ms. Dearing, who had dementia, had wandered outside and collapsed, said Mike McAuliffe, a justice of the peace in the county. He said the paramedics told county officials that it appeared that she had broken a leg and was not able to get back inside.
They found her six feet from a back door.
In her obituary, relatives remembered Ms. Dearing as a dedicated mother and grandmother of 11. One of her four surviving sons, Richard Dearing, described her death as “really sad.” Given how unprepared the state found itself during the winter storm, Mr. Dearing said he was surprised the death toll “wasn’t a lot higher.”