The Texas Department of State Health Services said Thursday its latest count shows 111 Texans died during last month's brutal winter storm and accompanying blackouts, nearly double the earlier estimate of 57 deaths. Most of the fatalities were from hypothermia, health officials said, but "multiple deaths" were attributable to motor vehicle accidents, "carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, exacerbation of chronic illness, lack of home oxygen, falls, and fire."
The number of deaths will rise again as officials comb through death records and some of the state's larger counties, including Tarrant County (Fort Worth), start reporting storm-related fatalities. The highest number of deaths so far are from Harris County (Houston), with 31, followed by Travis County's (Austin) nine deaths. "The toll now officially exceeds that of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which was blamed for 68 deaths in Texas," The Associated Press reports.
Hypothermia happens when a body loses more heat than it produces, AP explains. "The body first tries to generate heat by shivering and boosting one's heart rate, but if internal temperatures keep dropping, that slows and the body will restrict blood circulation to extremities to maintain blood in the core and keep internal organs warm." Then, "as people get colder, their mental status can change, and they can become unresponsive and not think as clearly," adds Dr. Deborah Diercks, chair of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern in Dallas.
Those who died of hypothermia include an 11-year-old boy in the Houston area, a man who froze to death outside in San Antonio after apparently falling en route to a dialysis appointment, and a man in Abilene who reportedly froze in his recliner, The Texas Tribune reports. As many as 4 million Texans were without power during the storm as multiple failures pushed the state's independent power grid to the brink of collapse. The state legislature is focusing much of its biennial session on shoring up the grid and addressing other concerns exposed by the storm.