February’s brutal winter storm exposed massive problems in Texas’ power and water systems. It also killed 111 people, according to numbers released Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services. That number almost doubles the earlier estimates of at least 57 fatalities as investigators confirmed the cause of more deaths.
The massive winter storm spread ice, snow and freezing temperatures over huge swaths of Texas, but power grid problems left millions weathering conditions in the dark in uninsulated homes, intensifying the storm’s deadliness.
The state’s power grid was minutes from collapse, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas officials told state lawmakers, prompting power operators to implement rotating blackouts, according to NPR member station KUT.
The state says the first storm-related deaths took place on Feb. 11, but due to long-term effects, some Texans succumbed to illness and injury as recently as March 11.
Victims came from 47 counties and included an 11-year-old boy who died of hypothermia and was found on Feb 16. The storm caused many other kinds of deaths as well, including accidents on unsafe roads, falls and fires. Some people’s medical equipment stopped working without power, cutting them off from lifesaving treatments. Others died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they desperately tried to heat their homes or cars.
Even after the storm passed and temperatures rose, it took days for power to return and even longer for water service to be restored across the state.
The number of dead, according to a tweet from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio, is “worse than anyone could have imagined.”
Texas’s independent power system has been market-based since 1999 when then-governor George W. Bush signed a law that deregulated much of the power industry and handed control of the power grid to a patchwork of private companies, and energy retailers in a move that had wide support at the time.
Now, critics say the independent ethos of Texas’ power system and lack of regulation are the key failures that led to such a high death toll during the storm and in the weeks that followed. Some critics are calling for the state to reevaluate its power system.