'Shivering uncontrollably': Bodies still being found after 70 people perish in storm

Associated Press
·5-min read

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

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.

Drivers were still dealing with treacherous conditions on streets for the fourth day after unusual weather hit the area, in Fort Worth, Texas on February 17. Source: AP
At least 70 people across several US states have been confirmed dead, with concerns more will be found in the coming days. Source: AP

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 120 centimetre deep snow drifts.

Hypothermia can set in if the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and if it falls below about 35C. Normal body temperature is around 37C.

“After hours and hours, it leads to a very dangerous condition,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said.

XL Jefferson Jr., 58, with his belongings under a bridge in Austin.
XL Jefferson Jr., 58, said he has prepared his tent to keep him warm the next few days as the temperature continues to drop. Source: AP

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 10C 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.

Homeless man Russell Brown seen walking in the snow.
The body will restrict blood circulation to extremities to maintain blood in the core and keep internal organs warm.Source: AP

The body will restrict blood circulation to extremities to maintain blood in the core and keep internal organs warm.

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.

Babies, children and seniors are at the highest risk for hypothermia because of poor circulation and temperature regulation.

Elmo Houston waiting in line at St. Elmo Brewery for free potable water. Source: AAP
Some areas remain without access to safe water. Source: AAP

Water woes linger after storm passes

Incoming and outgoing passenger flights at Memphis International Airport resumed on Saturday (local time) after being canceled due to terminal closures caused by system-wide water pressure issues, the facility said.

Yet water woes continued to plague Shelby County, Tennessee's largest county which includes Memphis, forcing officials to scramble to provide safe and clean water as they race to repair damages caused by deadly storms from earlier this week.

Separately, the Department of Health on Saturday confirmed two weather-related fatalities in Sumner County, bringing Tennessee's current weather fatalities to 10.

According to the the Memphis airport, temporary restroom facilities were set up because the water pressure problems had still not been resolved.

An abandoned car is covered in snow on the shoulder of Briley Parkway in Nashville, Tennessee, February 18. Source: The Tennessean via AP
An abandoned car is covered in snow in Nashville, Tennessee. Source: The Tennessean via AP

However, Memphis Light, Gas and Water is continuing to work on the system to restore reliable water supply for restrooms, operations, food and beverage, and the airlines.

Overall, roughly 260,000 homes and businesses in the Tennessee county that includes Memphis were told to boil water because of water main ruptures and pumping station problems. Restaurants that could not do so or did not have bottled water were ordered to close.

Separately, the Tennessee departments of Correction and Transportation were providing the Mark Luttrell Transition Center in Memphis with potable and non-potable water.

A total of eight water tankers have been sent to or located in Shelby County to assist with potable water issues. The Tennessee National Guard is supplying water for St. Francis Hospital.

Louisiana reports two new weather-related deaths

Louisiana authorities on Saturday (local time) confirmed two more fatalities tied to severe winter conditions, bringing the total deaths in the state to five.

The Louisiana Department of Health said a 68-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a generator was placed in a camper where they sought shelter in Avoyelles Parish. The parish coroner confirmed the deaths as being storm-related, authorities said.

State officials continue to warn residents not to use portable generators indoors. This includes garages, carports, basements or crawl spaces lacking ventilation, the department said.

“Gas powered generators produce carbon monoxide which is odourless and colourless. Inhaling carbon monoxide can very quickly lead to full incapacitation or death,” officials said.

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