TEXAS — With the snow and ice clearing in Texas after days of unusually cold temperatures, bodies are being found of people who likely froze to death as they struggled to stay warm after electricity was cut to millions of homes, according to reports.
Of the around 70 deaths attributed to the snow, ice and frigid temperatures nationwide, more than a dozen were people who perished in homes that had lost their heat, and most of those were in Texas. They include an 11-year-old boy who died in his bed in Conroe, near Houston, and two older men found dead in their homes in the small West Texas town of Buffalo Gap in Taylor County, KTLA reported.
Many residents not only lost power, but their water supply as well since pipes were frozen and in some cases, burst. Additionally, public water supplies were also compromised forcing utilities to halt service, according to several emergency notifications.
Homes in the Austin metropolitan area suffered through water and power outages that lasted for days. As one resident said, “It was like indoor winter camping. If you’re not equipped to camp in freezing weather, you’re in trouble. Austin is not a cold weather city. Therefore, many residents and surrounding cities were severely handicapped during the freezing temperatures.”
Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop said his office received many calls in recent days asking for checks on friends or family members who may be suffering due to the power outages.
“I can think of probably one point in one hour we probably got 10 of those calls,” said Bishop, adding that some of the county’s roads were covered in 4 foot deep snow drifts.
Hypothermia can set in if the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and if it falls below about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees.
Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for Fort Worth area ambulance provider MedStar, said most of the hypothermia calls they received were from people in their own homes, where temperatures had dipped to 50 degrees or lower.
MedStar reached a peak on Wednesday with 77 hypothermia calls, Zavadsky said. Some people reported numb hands and feet, while others had more severe symptoms.
“You had people who had been so cold for so long that they were shivering uncontrollably, they may have had a decreased level of consciousness, which is not uncommon when you are in hypothermia for a prolonged period of time,” he said.
Some who were transported to hospitals had reached the point they were no longer shivering, “which is a very bad sign,” Zavadsky said.
At first, the body will try to generate heat by shivering and boosting its heart rate. But if internal temperatures keep dropping, “those things start to slow down,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, an emergency room doctor at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. The body will restrict blood circulation to extremities to maintain blood in the core and keep internal organs warm, KTLA reported.
Left untreated, hypothermia begins to affect the brain, making it hard to think clearly or move easily.
“You might not understand exactly what’s going on,” Potfhof said. “And that’s a vicious cycle because you can’t take the action you need to.”
Some of the older people who died in Texas were found outside their homes. It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted them to go outside.