Two people died of exposure and a third died of possible carbon monoxide poisoning trying to get warm during this week’s bitterly cold temperatures and widespread power outages, the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Wednesday.
Up to four more Galveston County deaths are being investigated and are suspected of being connected to the brutal conditions, officials said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s power grid, bore responsibility for the cold-related deaths for ordering CenterPoint Energy and other such companies to cut off power and maintain outages far longer than officials said they would, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.
The deaths are the first local ones confirmed and linked to the sub-freezing temperatures and widespread power outages gripping Texas this week.
Henry on Wednesday said he planned to ask the Galveston County District Attorney to investigate and consider possible charges against the companies, people and agencies who contributed to the power outages in the county.
“If we had been told that would happen, we would have considered an evacuation,” Henry said.
The exposure deaths included a 50-year-old man from Hitchcock and an 88-year-old woman from Bacliff, according to the medical examiner’s office.
A 70-year-old man from Santa Fe on Tuesday was found dead surrounded by heating devices inside a greenhouse, officials said. The man likely died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but investigators were waiting for a toxicology report to confirm that, officials said.
Autopsies still were being finalized on a 62-year-old man from Galveston, an 85-year-old woman from Dickinson, an 89-year-old woman from Hitchcock and a 62-year-old man from Santa Fe, officials said. All four deaths possibly are suspected of being connected to the brutal winter conditions.
In addition to the Galveston deaths, the medical examiner’s office confirmed two deaths from Brazoria County. A 39-year-old woman died of exposure in Angleton, and a 72-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Pearland.
The county medical examiner provides death investigation services to Galveston, Brazoria and Matagorda counties.
Earlier this week, county officials announced they were securing a refrigerated trailer to hold bodies that would be arriving at the office this week. The death toll in the three-county region could be as high as 50 people, county officials said.
The trailer also was needed because of a lack of space in the small county medical examiner’s office and because of closures caused by the winter storm. Without power and water, local funeral homes weren’t able to accept bodies from the medical examiner’s office for embalming, meaning they have to stay in the county facility.
As of Thursday, no bodies have been placed in the trailer, officials said. Funeral homes began to pick up bodies from the examiner’s office in Texas City on Thursday, a spokesman said.
Officials don’t believe the death toll reported by the medical examiner’s is the limit of the fatalities caused by the cold, they said. Some deaths might not have been reported to the medical examiner’s office if someone, such as a family doctor, confirmed and determined a cause of death, Henry said.
It’s also possible some people who died might have lived alone and their bodies not yet discovered, Henry said.
Although the deaths haven’t been classified as homicides, Henry planned to ask Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady to consider whether charges could be filed against people over the fatalities, he said.
County officials Monday were under the impression there would be rolling blackouts meant to last minutes or hours, Henry said. An initial announcement from ERCOT, sent at 1:25 a.m. Monday, said outages in state were planned to rotate between households.
Instead, the magnitude of power failures in the state caused more than 90 percent of the county to be plunged into darkness for days.