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Texas Officials Warn Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning; At Least 17 Deaths Tied to Winter Storm Uri

Published in 17 February, 2021

At a Glance

  • The impacts of deadly Winter Storm Uri linger in Texas as the storm heads toward the Northeast.

  • More than 3 million homes and businesses were still without power in Texas.

  • Hundreds of thousands of households have been warned to boil water because of the blackouts.

As millions of Texans prepared to endure another frigid night with no electricity, officials pleaded with residents to refrain from using grills, generators and other items to provide heat indoors.

“This is a public health disaster and a public health emergency,” Dr. Samuel Prater, an emergency room physician at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center, said in a news briefing Tuesday evening, referring to dozens of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the wake of power outages during Winter Storm Uri.

At least two people, a child and an adult, have died.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at least 300 calls regarding carbon monoxide poisoning had been received by the fire marshall, hospitals and other agencies. Hidalgo called it a “disaster within a disaster.”

Harris County Fire Marshall Linda Christensen implored people to spread the word about carbon monoxide danger by texting and calling neighbors and friends and sharing warnings on social media.

“We have to get the message out. People are dying,” Christiansen said. “We are losing our family members to carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Safety rules include never using grills, generators and other items indoors, in garages or in close proximity to buildings.

The Cy-Fair Fire Department in northwest Harris County said many people were using charcoal grills inside their homes for heat. The department took 14 people, including seven children, to hospitals because of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Fort Worth, Cook Children’s Medical Center treated at least 13 pediatric patients for carbon monoxide poisoning.

In all, at least 17 deaths have been attributed to the storm.

Across the South and into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, several million homes and businesses had no power Tuesday morning. In Texas alone, more than 4 million customers still had no electricity Tuesday morning. Some had been without power for more than 24 hours after generating stations went offline early Monday.

One Texas utility warned that the grid manager was “unable to predict when grid conditions will stabilize. All customers are urged to be prepared for (continued) extended outages.”

The outages also shut down water treatment plants and hundreds of thousands of people were told to boil water before using it.

Here is a look at more of the impacts of the cold and Winter Storm Uri.

Texas Power Outages

More than 3.1 million homes and businesses remained without electricity in Texas as of about 6 p.m. EST Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us.

The arctic air that poured into Texas resulted in a record-breaking demand for power that caused the state’s electric grid to fail. Suppliers had planned to use rolling blackouts, but the system was overwhelmed.

An estimated 75% of Texas power generation capacity was impacted, according to KTRK.

“The number of controlled outages we have to do remains high. We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day,” tweeted Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid.

Bill Magness, president and CEO of ERCOT, told WFAA about 45,000 megawatts of electricity was offline Tuesday morning. Texas has about 680 power plants in the state, and 70 to 80 of those were offline, WFAA reported.

Magness said ERCOT couldn’t buy electricity from utilities in the eastern U.S. because they were experiencing their own outages and ERCOT isn’t connected to utilities in the western U.S.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan ordered a hearing to investigate ERCOT and determine what caused “caused the lights to go off across the Lone Star State.”

(MORE: Another Winter Storm To Spread Snow, Ice From South to Midwest and East)

Officials with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation announced they too are launching an inquiry into the operations of the country’s bulk-power system, the Associated Press reported.

Texas officials asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send 60 generators and planned to use them for hospitals and nursing homes first, AP reported. The state also opened 35 shelters.

At Least 17 Deaths

-A woman and her three elementary-school-age grandchildren died in a house fire about 2 a.m. Tuesday in Sugar Land, Texas, according to KHOU. Two people were injured. The cause of the fire is being investigated. The neighborhood had been without power for about eight hours, KHOU reported.

-A woman and a girl died and two other people were hospitalized Monday in Houston because of carbon monoxide poisoning, Houston Police said. It looked as if they left a car running in the garage to help warm the house, which had no power, police said.

-A man found dead Monday on a median in Houston was suspected to have died because of exposure to extremely low temperatures, Police Chief Art Acevedo said. An autopsy is pending.

-Just outside Houston, the death of a 60-year-old man found in a van in Harris County, Texas, also may have been caused by exposure to the cold, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.

-A person who got out of his car after an accident on Interstate 10 was struck and killed late Monday, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.

-Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the cold is suspected in the death of a 78-year-old man found Monday morning outside his home near San Antonio, Texas, according to KSAT.

-In Missouri, a 59-year-old man was killed about 4:20 p.m. Monday near Sturgeon in Boone County after his pickup truck collided with a snowplow, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

-A 50-year-old Lafayette Parish man died Monday after slipping on ice and hitting his head, the Louisiana Department of Health reported.

-In Tennessee, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said a 10-year-old boy died and his 6-year-old sister was in critical condition after they fell through an iced-over pond Sunday morning near Millington, the Commercial Appeal reported.

-The Tennessee Department of Health said there was one storm-related fatality in Maury County but no other details were provided.

-In North Carolina, Uri spawned a tornado that killed three people and injured 10 in Ocean Isle Beach, according to Brunswick County officials.

Texas Water Problems

The power outages forced some water treatment plants to shut down.

Abilene, a city of about 120,000 people, shut off water service at 7 p.m. Monday after power outages at all three of its water treatment plants, the city said in a news release. It warned that residents would have to boil water once service was restored.

More than 212,000 residents of Fort Worth and those of nine cities that buy drinking water from Fort Worth were told to boil water before using it after treatment plants there lost electricity. Customers should expect to be on a boil water notice through at least late Wednesday, the city said in a news release.

The cities of Pflugerville and Taylor also issued boil water notices, as did the Manville Water Supply Corporation in Williamson County.

Customers in eastern Hays County and in the Elm Creek area in Elgin also were warned to boil water before using it, KXAN reported.

The city of Kyle asked residents to stop using water altogether until further notice. “Due to a loss of power … we are close to running out of water supply in #KyleTX,” the city tweeted.

Other Power Outages

For the second consecutive day, the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electric grid across parts of 14 states, warned that demand has exceeded its electric supply. It again warned that member utilities would implement controlled outages.

Rolling blackouts were reported in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Mexico. They affected tens of thousands of customers at a time.

Beyond the planned outages, hundreds of thousands of customers lost power because of the effects of Winter Storm Uri.

More than 84,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana still had no power Tuesday evening, according to poweroutage.us. Much of that was caused by icy tree limbs falling on power lines. Frozen roads made it difficult for utility crews to reach the downed lines, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Kentucky was still reporting nearly 125,000 outages. Some customers might not have electricity restored until the weekend, the Lexington Herald Leader reported. West Virginia had more than 81,000 outages, and Virginia had more than 61,000. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in several states including Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio also had no power.

Uri Still Causing Travel Problems

Northbound Interstate 75 in Richmond, Kentucky, was closed because of a crash involving a jackknifed semitrailer tractor on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

(Instagram/richmondkypolice)

Ice- and snow-covered roadways were still making for hazardous driving conditions on Tuesday.

Downed trees and power lines made most roads impassable in much of northeast Kentucky, the state Transportation Cabinet said. “Travel is hazardous, and not advised,” according to a news release. Low temperatures were making roadways harder to plow in central Kentucky. Crashes and jackknifed semitrailer tractors were reported on several interstates around the state.

In southeastern Kentucky, road crews had to stop treating secondary roads on Monday because of the bad conditions.

“Our trucks were running into guardrails, sliding into ditch lines, unable to stay on the pavement,” Darold Slone, snow and ice coordinator for the district that covers that corner of the state, said in a news release. “Our drivers are highly skilled and experienced driving in every type of weather. … They have chains on their tires. If they can’t navigate the roads safely, then other people don’t need to be out.”

Two Kentucky State Police troopers were injured when their cars were hit while they worked at a crash scene on Interstate 65 near Horse Cave, Kentucky, on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

(Twitter/@kystatepolice)

The Kentucky State Police reported multiple collisions on Interstate 65 near Horse Cave shortly before 11 a.m. Northbound lanes remained block nearly an hour later. Two troopers were injured when their cars were struck by a semi while they worked at crash scenes, Trooper Daniel Priddy told weather.com.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said it was working five separate crashes on Interstate 40 east of Lebanon, Tennessee.

Air travel was also being restricted by Uri. More than 2,700 flights were canceled Tuesday and nearly 1,700 flights scheduled for Wednesday have been canceled. Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport said it would be closed until at least 8 p.m. CST Tuesday, after originally hoping to open earlier. Dallas-Fort Worth International, where the low temperature dropped to -2, reopened but more than 946 flights were canceled.

Nashville International Airport remained open but 195 flights were canceled.

Baylor University students enjoy their snow day without classes while posing near a fountain on campus Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Waco, Texas. Arctic temperatures caused a massive power outage and brought traffic to a crawl. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)

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