SAN ANTONIO – Carrol Anderson has spent much of his life in Southeast Texas, where the most dreaded natural disasters strike the Gulf of Mexico during the hot months of the hurricane season. But last week Mr Anderson, a 75-year-old man who breathed using oxygen tanks, knew another kind of storm was heading his way.
To prepare, he ordered a new supply of oxygen which his daughter-in-law said never arrived. There was, however, a spare tank in the van outside his one-story brick house in Crosby, Texas, just northeast of Houston.
So when Mr. Anderson, an Army veteran who passed by Andy, was found dead inside his truck on Tuesday, his stepdaughter thought he was out to pick it up. His main tank, back in the house, runs on electricity, and the electricity was cut off the night before as a deadly cold swept over much of Texas.
While the final tally may be much higher, Mr Anderson was among at least 58 people who died in storm-affected areas stretching as far as Ohio from carbon monoxide poisoning, d car accidents, drownings, house fires and hypothermia.
In Galveston County, along the Texas Gulf Coast, officials said two residents had died from exposure to cold and one person from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Four other deaths remained under investigation and may have been related to the freezing weather.
Judge Mark Henry, the county’s top elected official, said he would have evacuated some of its most vulnerable residents ahead of the winter storm had he known power outages would plunge the county into darkness for a few days . He said the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electricity grid, had only warned of power outages. Instead, most residents were without power for at least 48 hours.
“We would have been happy to order an evacuation if we had been told on Sunday that the electricity was going to go out and stay for four days,” he said, noting that the county is more used to ordering evacuations before the hurricanes.
A spokeswoman for Ercot said on Friday that the surge in demand had put stress on the electricity grid, a crisis so severe that “local utilities were unable to alternate blackouts.”
At its peak, about four million Texans were without power this week as temperatures dropped to teens and single digits. About 165,000 people remained without electricity on Friday, although millions still have no running water or are advised to boil tap water.
Still, there were signs of relief. In Austin, City Manager Spencer Cronk said on Friday more than a million gallons of water would arrive over the next two days. The city plans to set up distribution centers, and Mr Cronk said water will be provided to the city’s most vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly and the homeless.
Greg Meszaros, the director of the Austin water utility, said he expected most residents to see their water pressure restored over the weekend. The boil water advisories are expected to be lifted next week, he said.
The dimensions of a public health crisis exacerbated by poverty, hopelessness and, in some cases, a lack of understanding of cold weather safety, have become more apparent. Texas hospitals and health care providers recorded more than 700 visits related to carbon monoxide poisoning between Monday and Wednesday. Thayer Smith, division chief of the Austin Fire Department, said his city has seen dozens of incidents of toxic exposure from people burning charcoal in their homes.
The weather has also hampered the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The White House said on Friday that six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been blocked due to snowstorms across the country, creating a backlog affecting every state and slowing the pace of immunization appointments over the course of next week.
Hospitals in Texas spent the week struggling with burst pipes, power outages and acute water shortages, making it difficult to manage patients.
In Abilene, authorities said a man died at Hendrick Medical Center after being unable to receive dialysis treatment at the site. Large amounts of filtered water, in addition to electricity and heating, are needed to properly care for dialysis patients, and the hospital’s water has been shut down, said Cande Flores, the fire chief. from Abilene.
Chief Flores said at least four people have died in Abilene as a result of the state’s power grid failure, including a homeless man who died from cold exposure, a 60-year-old man found dead at his home and an 86-year-old woman whose daughter found her frozen in his garden.
Elsewhere in the state, a 69-year-old man was found dead in his home in a rural community south of San Antonio, where he lived alone. He had no electricity and authorities said his room was 35 degrees when they found him.
In Houston, an Ethiopian immigrant died in her idling car, which was parked in her garage, where she sat while charging her phone. She was talking to a friend when she started to feel tired.
“She tried to drink some water,” said Negash Desta, a step relative with Etenesh Mersha, who died. “After telling her friend that she couldn’t speak anymore, there was no response afterwards.”
The friend attempted to call the police in Houston but did not have an address, Mr Desta said. The friend turned to Facebook, where she found Mr. Desta. A few hours later, he finally got a message about what had happened and alerted the police. They found an entire family poisoned.
“When they entered, they found that the mother and daughter were just dead and the son and father were alive. They were all passed out, ”he said, adding that the car was still running. The daughter, Rakeb Shalemu, was 7 years old.
Ms. Mersha’s husband and 8-year-old son were hospitalized. Mr Desta said the husband has since been released and the boy, Beimnet Shalemu, is still in the intensive critical unit.
Near Houston in Conroe, Texas, an 11-year-old boy, Cristian Pineda, was found dead in his bed Monday morning. His family had no power the night before, and the parents, the boy and his siblings had huddled together in a bedroom, Lt. James Kelemen of the Conroe Police Department said on Friday.
Like Mr. Anderson and Ms. Mersha and her family, Cristian was the subject of a hastily assembled GoFundMe page. He asked for donations to cover the costs of his burial in Honduras, where his family is from. He had raised over $ 38,000 by Friday afternoon.
The page showed a photo of a boy in a thin red hoodie, smiling and standing in the snow.
On Tuesday, as Mr Anderson’s wife was cleaning their living room after a frozen pipe burst, he went to the garage to try and run a generator, hoping he could help clean up with a Shop -Vac.
His wife would not know until later that he had gone to his truck for oxygen, his stepdaughter, Brandi Campanile, said. It was 19 degrees. It turned out that his spare oxygen tank was empty.
“He was trying to get oxygen and it was just a losing battle,” Ms. Campanile said on Friday. “Texas is not meant to endure freezing temperatures. It is not something that is happening here.
Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio reported from San Antonio, Richard Fausset from Atlanta, and Johnny diaz from Miami. Richard Webner contributed reporting from Austin, and Simon romero Albuquerque.