The death toll from February’s power grid failure in Texas could be five times what officials have so far declared—and little is being done to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.
While the official death tally stands at 151, BuzzFeed News writes that an application of the well-established “excess deaths” analysis method (the same being used this year to calculate deaths from COVID-19) puts the actual loss of life closer to 700.
“This astonishing toll exposes the full consequence of officials’ neglect in preventing the power grid’s collapse despite repeated warnings of its vulnerability to cold weather, as well as the state’s failure to reckon with the magnitude of the crisis that followed,” writes BuzzFeed.
Many of those who died were medically vulnerable—like 80-year-old Julius Gonzales, a diabetic who had recently recovered from COVID. The official cause of death was recorded as cardiovascular disease. But his wife of 60 years, Mary, told BuzzFeed she believes the medical examiner’s judgement was “incomplete,” as her husband’s final struggle to survive happened as temperatures sank to historic lows and the couple huddled together to stay warm without power in their mobile home.
Noting that its analysis has been “reviewed by three independent experts,” BuzzFeed writes that its investigation “suggests that between 426 and 978 more people than expected died in Texas in the week ending February 20 alone,” setting its best estimate at 702.
“Neighbouring states that were hit hard by the winter storm but did not experience the widespread power outages seen in Texas did not show a spike in deaths,” adds BuzzFeed.
And the ramifications of these deaths go far beyond grief.
“For Mary Gonzales, the delay in obtaining a cause of death for her husband meant she was unable to claim an income from his pension for almost three months. And without an official acknowledgment tying their loved ones’ deaths to the storm, families will be unable to claim federal assistance for funeral costs,” BuzzFeed explains. Now, Gonzales has been forced to sell, and to decide “which of a half-century’s worth of their possessions to keep when she moves into her son’s house next door.”
Yet it seems the state will do very little to ensure that such tragedies never befall Texans again. While legislators did manage to approve “a sweeping package of measures to address specific problems that threaten electric reliability—some of them despite opposition from the oil and gas industry,” NPR writes, the measures fall far short of what is needed.
Case in point: Rice University civil engineering professor Dan Cohan told NPR the state’s newly-established requirements for winterization apply only to power plants, and not to the rest of the vulnerable gas supply chain.
“It’s just not going to be enough,” he said.