Hundreds more people died in Texas during the February freeze and blackouts than the official census shows, according to a survey by BuzzFeed News. The power outage left millions of people without power as indoor temperatures plummeted to deadly lows.
Texas has recognized so far 151 deaths from winter storms. BuzzFeed News, on the other hand, found that an estimated 700 people lost their lives from the combined catastrophes of the storm and power outages. The news center conducted a thorough analysis of data showing how many more people died around that time than would normally be expected. It is the most recent analysis that shows that the way authorities typically count the number of deaths in disasters drastically reduces actual losses.
According to BuzzFeed NewsThe Texas Department of State Health Services mainly counted deaths from hypothermia, ice accidents, and carbon monoxide poisoning (people turn on cars and grills in their homes in a desperate attempt to keep warm). But hypothermia is “notoriously difficult to diagnose,” said Hannah Jarvis, assistant medical researcher at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. BuzzFeed News. And the deaths of people already vulnerable to extreme cold and stress due to underlying medical conditions flew under the radar of Texas officials, BuzzFeed News reports.
Many of their death records point to those conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, as the cause of death. But relatives and roommates who were there for their loved ones’ last, shivering moments say the freezing cold was to blame. “I still believe the cold got him where his heart gave out,” said a grieving widow, Mary Gonzales. BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed News modeled how many deaths are expected in a given week, using long-term and seasonal trends. Then that was compared to actual deaths recorded by the CDC to find out how many more people were likely to die from the storm and blackouts (and subtracted deaths from COVID-19).
Similar studies revealed how many people actually died in Hurricane Maria and the power outages that followed. Puerto Rico changed its official death toll from 64 to 2,975 after public outcry over the initial underestimation and after a more profound report by George Washington University came to the higher number.
“We now know that the repeated failure of the Texas government to modernize our energy systems killed more than 700 Texans during the February winter storm,” said Beto O’Rourke, former Texas representative. tweeted, calling for more action by lawmakers to protect the state’s energy system from climate change and more extreme weather. Many energy companies chose not to steal the state’s energy infrastructure against spells of cold weather, even after an equally cruel cold snap in 2011.
Ultimately, this story is about more than numbers. BuzzFeed News spoke to families who are still fighting for justice after losing their loved ones. Many were ineligible for support from FEMA because their death certificates did not mention the winter storm. Not officially acknowledging their deaths also endangers lives in future disasters, as public health officials cannot see all the vulnerabilities that unfolded during the storm. BuzzFeed News shows what the state has missed; Read the full story here.