Texas Is Still Not Recognizing The Full Death Toll Of Last Year’s Devastating Winter Storm

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced on New Year's Eve that 246 people died in a winter storm in February of 2021. The new figure is 36 higher than the previous one.

According to an analysis of "excess deaths" in the week of the power outages, the true number is likely more than 750.

Independent reports suggest that this is a gross undercount and that over 700 died, Beto O'Rourke said on Tuesday. O'Rourke is a democrat from El Paso who is running for governor of Texas.

He blamed his opponent for the deaths. They were killed by the incompetence and corruption of Abbott who was warned repeatedly about the grid's vulnerabilities but did nothing. He didn't do anything after the grid failed and hundreds died. We could see more tragedy when Texas experiences extreme weather.

The findings would be buried by the Abbott administration on New Year's Eve, according to O'Rourke. Every Texan who lost a loved one because of the power grid failure deserves an answer from Governor Abbott, and that must start with the Abbott administration acknowledging the true human toll.

Requests for comment from Abbott's office were not immediately responded to.

Federal officials reported in November that this was a largely avoidable disaster. The federal government warned Texas that its power infrastructure was vulnerable to failure in extreme cold after a previous winter storm in 2011. In the decade since, little has been done to winterize the grid.

The Texas health department searched for death certificate narratives that mentioned the winter storm as well as suggestive language such as "icy" in the new report. When the power went off, people tried to keep warm by running generators, barbecue grills, or their cars in enclosed spaces, but they died from causes such as carbon monoxide poisoning.

The report found that 161 people died from extreme cold exposure, 22 died in vehicle accidents, 19 died from carbon monoxide poisoning, 10 died from fires, and nine died from falls. 25 people died from pre-existing illness during the storm and its aftermath, including five from cardiovascular disease, according to officials.

The Department of State Health Services evaluated actual causes of death rather than coming up with a vague estimate of the total number. The report states that we follow national standards to do so, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definitions for direct, indirect, and possible related disaster deaths.

Death certificates are often incomplete or inaccurate, as reported by BuzzFeed News. Only a small number of Texas counties have their own medical examiner's offices. If elected officials want a more extensive examination of the cause of death, they must contract out medical examiners in larger counties.

Some of the deaths from the storm will be captured by the state, but not all.

In the week following the storm and power failures, there was a spike in deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease, but our analysis shows that this was not the case.

It is hard for forensic pathologists to recognize deaths from hypothermia unless the person is found with a dangerously low core body temperature. Some of these people died from un recorded cold. Scientists have consistently found that extreme cold can push people with cardiovascular disease over the edge, which means that the state's conclusion that just five people with these conditions were killed by the storm stretches credibility.

In May, we first reported that Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has a huge body of literature showing that cold temperatures are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hospitalizations, and mortality.

Texas legislators passed bills to keep the grid working after last year's storm. The provisions were criticized for being inadequate. Natural gas is used to generate almost half of Texas's electricity. Natural gas providers curbed their production when cold weather returned to the state in December, suggesting they still aren't able to operate smoothly in cold weather.