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The New York Times

Extremely cold-killed Texans in their bedrooms, vehicles, and backyards

SAN ANTONIO – Carrol Anderson lived much of his life in southeast Texas, where the most feared natural disasters of the warm months of the hurricane season hit the Gulf of Mexico. But last week, Anderson, a 75-year-old who breathed with the help of oxygen tanks, knew that another kind of storm was coming his way. In preparation, he ordered a new supply of oxygen, which his stepdaughter said never arrived. However, a replacement tank was in the pickup outside his one-story brick home in Crosby, Texas, northeast of Houston. When Anderson, an Army veteran who was walking past Andy, was found dead in his truck on Tuesday, his stepdaughter suspected he had gone outside to get him. His main tank in the house runs on electricity, and there was a power cut the night before when a fatal cold hit much of Texas. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. While the final record could be much higher, Anderson was among at least 58 people who died in storm-hit areas as far as Ohio, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, car accidents, drowning, and house fires and hypothermia. In Galveston County on the Texas Gulf Coast, authorities said two residents died from the cold and one person from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Four other deaths were further investigated and were possibly related to the cold weather. District Judge Mark Henry, the district’s top elected official, said he would have evacuated some of its most vulnerable residents before the winter storm if he had known power outages would plunge the district into darkness for several days. He said the Texas Electric Reliability Council, which manages the state’s power grid, only warned of rolling power outages. Instead, most residents were without power for at least 48 hours. “We would have liked to have ordered an evacuation if we had been told on Sunday that the power would be out and would have been outside for four days,” he said, noting that the county is more used to ordering evacuations before hurricanes. A spokeswoman for ERCOT said Friday that the surge in demand was putting a strain on the power grid, a crisis so bad that “local utilities couldn’t turn the failures around”. At its peak this week, about 4 million Texans were without electricity as temperatures dropped to teenagers and single digits. About 165,000 were left without electricity on Friday, even though millions were still without running water or under instructions to boil their tap water. Even so, there were signs of relief. In hard-hit Austin, City Manager Spencer Cronk said Friday that more than 1 million gallons of water would arrive in the next two days. The city plans to set up distribution centers, and Cronk said water would be delivered 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 restore their water pressure over the weekend. The recommendations for boiling water should be repealed sometime next week, he said. Clearer were the dimensions of a public health crisis exacerbated by poverty, desperation and, in some cases, a lack of understanding of cold weather safety. More than 700 visits related to carbon monoxide poisoning were recorded to hospitals and health care providers in Texas between Monday and Wednesday. Austin Fire Department chief Thayer Smith said his city had seen dozens of incidents of toxic exposure from people burning charcoal in their homes. The weather also hampered the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The White House said Friday that 6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines were withheld across the country due to snowstorms, creating a backlog across all states and slowing the pace of vaccination appointments for the next week. In Texas, hospitals have spent the week grappling with burst pipes, power outages, and acute water shortages, making patient care difficult. In Abilene, authorities said a man died at Hendrick Medical Center after being unable to receive dialysis treatment on site. In addition to electricity and heat, large amounts of filtered water are required to properly care for dialysis patients, and the hospital’s water has been shut down, said Cande Flores, Abilene’s chief fire officer. Flores said at least four people died in Abilene as a result of the state power failure, including a homeless man who died from the cold, a 60-year-old man who was found dead in his home, and an 86-year-old old woman whose daughter she found frozen in her backyard. 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 bedroom was 35 degrees when they found him. In Houston, an Ethiopian immigrant woman died in her idle car that was parked in her garage where she sat while charging her phone. The woman, Etenesh Mersha, was talking to a friend when she felt tired. “She tried to drink water,” said Negash Desta, a relative who was married to Mersha. “After telling her friend that she could no longer speak, there was no answer.” The friend tried to call the Houston police but doesn’t have an address, Desta said. The friend turned to Facebook, where she found Desta. Hours later, he finally received news of what had happened and alerted the police. They found a whole family, poisoned. “When they came in, they found that the mother and daughter were just dead and the son and father were alive. They all passed out, ”he said, adding that the car was still in motion. The daughter, Rakeb Shalemu, was 7 years old. Mersha’s husband and 8-year-old son were hospitalized. Desta said the husband has since been released and that boy Beimnet Shalemu was 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 electricity the night before, and the parents, boy, and siblings were huddled in a bedroom, Lt. James Kelemen of the Conroe Police Department on Friday. Like Anderson and Mersha and their family, Cristian was the focus of a hastily put together GoFundMe page. It asked for donations to cover his funeral in Honduras, where his family is from. More than $ 38,000 was raised on Friday afternoon. The page featured a picture of a boy in a thin red hoodie who was smiling and standing in the snow. On Tuesday, when Anderson’s wife was cleaning up her living room after a frozen pipe burst, he went to the garage to try and get a generator running in hopes he could help clean up with a shop vac. His wife wouldn’t find out until later that he had gone to his truck in search of oxygen, said stepdaughter Brandi Campanile. 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,” Campanile said on Friday. “Texas is not meant for freezing temperatures. That doesn’t happen out here. “This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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