The harsh winter storm that hit Texas and other states last week has been blamed for dozens of deaths, though officials said it would take weeks or months before the human cost of the freezing and the utilities crisis is known and it might never be fully accurate.
So far, nearly 80 people have died from the storm and its effects, according to the Associated Press.
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An 11-year-old boy was found frozen in his bed, his family told the Houston Chronicle. A grandmother and three grandchildren died in a house fire as they tried to stay warm, the Chronicle also reported. At least six deaths have occurred near the Abilene area, local media reported, including a patient who could not receive medical attention due to lack of water and three elderly men who were found dead in frozen houses.
Harris County, which includes Houston, has confirmed at least 15 deaths from hypothermia and one fatal fall on ice, according to its Forensic Institute. Several more have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after taking dangerous measures to stay warm, according to the county’s top leader. In Travis County, which includes Austin, the medical examiner’s office is busy processing more than 80 cases last week to determine causes of death, an official said.
Forensic pathologists do not determine the circumstances of a death. It will be up to officials such as the police and justices of the peace in each of Texas’ 254 counties to investigate the recent deaths and decide if they may have been linked to the storm. Cases that local registrars report as possibly related to a storm will be referred to state epidemiologists for evaluation, said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health Services.
Calculating deaths from a large-scale crisis is difficult and the totals may not be reliable, said Robert Jensen, president of Kenyon International Emergency Services, a London and Houston-based company that was hired to help count the deaths after events such as Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005. Authorities there mainly counted the bodies left behind when the floodwaters receded, he said. In a case like the Texas storm, the reporting will likely be based on the opinions of local authorities.
“Mass deaths scare people and they are very political. I don’t think it’s intentionally misleading, it’s just a very messed up process.
“Each county will sort of do their own thing,” Jensen said. Individual officials will need to weigh factors such as whether a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning happened because people were trying to stay warm, whether a car accident happened due to ice, or whether a lack of water or electricity caused an existing health problem. flare or not to be treated.
Mr Jensen added that there is often little political will among state officials to standardize the process or determine the true cost of a disaster.
“Mass deaths scare people and they are very political,” he said. “I don’t think it’s intentionally misleading, it’s just a very messed up process.”
Some lawsuits against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the Texas power grid, seek to link specific deaths to the storm. A lawyer for Doyle Austin, a Houstonian whose family found him unresponsive – a week before his 96th birthday – after two days without electricity and temperatures dropping to 11 degrees, said he died of hypothermia from storm.
A spokeswoman for Ercot said she had not yet considered the lawsuits, but said she was convinced the power cuts that occurred were the right move to avoid a prolonged power outage throughout the world. State. “It’s a tragedy,” she said. “Our hearts go out to all Texans who have suffered and are suffering because of the last week.”
Mr. Austin worked his entire life in the Port of Houston and played professional baseball in what was then called the “Negro Leagues” in the 1940s when the teams were still separate, said Larry Taylor, a lawyer. based in Houston representing Mr. Austin’s daughters, and a family friend. In his later years, Mr. Austin loved walking around the neighborhood and playing dominoes and spades with his loved ones.
“He was a hero to many of us in the family and the community, in terms of the way he behaved and what he was able to do for a living and how he treated people,” said Mr. Taylor.
Mr Austin’s death report is still not complete, but Mr Taylor said there was no doubt in his mind that the weather and utility crisis was to blame.
“I’m healthy, I’m fine, a traumatic freeze is occurring, I am losing electricity, my house is at freezing temperatures and I’m dying,” he says. “There is no doubt in our minds that he died of hypothermia. We’ll get more details eventually, but a rocket scientist doesn’t have to know.
Write to Elizabeth Findell at [email protected]
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