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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

Texas Winter Storm Death Toll Could Be Much Higher Than The State's Count, BuzzFeed Data Review Found

An Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance moves down South Congress Avenue on Feb. 15 during the Texas freeze.
Gabriel C. Pérez
An Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance moves down South Congress Avenue on Feb. 15 during the Texas freeze.

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While Texas officials have confirmed that 151 deaths were related to the freeze in February, the death toll could actually be four or five times higher, according to a BuzzFeed data review.

Using mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BuzzFeed said it compared the number of deaths from all causes that were reported in Texas during and after the storm with the number of fatalities that are normally reported during ordinary conditions. That method is known as “excess fatalities” and has been employed during other disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic, to estimate related death tolls.

“Our analysis, reviewed by three independent experts, suggests that between 426 and 978 more people than expected died in Texas in the week ending February 20 alone,” the BuzzFeed report says. “Our best estimate is that 702 people were killed by the storm that week. Even the lowest end of the range is almost three times the number officials have acknowledged. Neighboring 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.”

The victims included medically vulnerable people with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney problems, BuzzFeed said.

The February winter storm left thousands without power in subfreezing temperatures and caused serious damage to people’s homes, leaving some apartment tenants with nowhere to go.

Nearly 90 people died in Travis County that week. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s office has said it is investigating those deaths to determine which can be linked to the freeze.

Texas lawmakers are currently considering legislation meant to prevent further blackouts, most of which are contained in Senate Bill 3. The bill touches on everything from regulating some retail electricity plans to establishing an energy emergency alert system, but some worry it won’t do enough to make sure all of the state’s natural gas infrastructure is winterized or that penalties won’t be high enough to get gas companies to comply.

Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera is an assistant digital editor for KUT.
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