HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – At least two deaths in Texas have been unofficially attributed to the winter storm that has blanketed wide swaths of the United States, wreaking havoc on civil and social services and plunging millions into darkness.
Deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office told KHOU late Monday that a homeless man found dead in a van earlier in the day likely died due to the severe cold weather, but an autopsy must be performed to confirm their suspicions.
The 60-year-old man, who has not been identified, was found at the Interstate-10 overpass near Sheldon just before noon. According to the sheriff’s office, members of the Homeless Outreach Team had previously offered to take the man to a warming center, but he declined, the TV station reported.
Meanwhile, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told KHOU that a second unidentified man found dead by a passerby in a median near Bagby likely died of exposure, but a definitive cause of death has not been determined.
The storm was part of a massive system that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to the southern Plains before spreading across the Ohio Valley and taking aim at the Northeast.
According to The Associated Press, the Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities across 14 states, called for rolling outages because the supply of reserve energy had been exhausted. Some utilities reported they were starting blackouts, while others urged customers to reduce power usage.
Officials warned that homes still without power – which totaled 4 million earlier Monday – would likely not have heat until at least Tuesday.
“Things will likely get worse before they get better,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the county of nearly 5 million people around Houston, told the AP.
Meanwhile, a Houston facility storing 8,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is among those without power, leaving health officials scrambling to find takers while authorities plead simultaneously with residents to stay home, the AP reported.
Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, called the storm “unprecedented” and defended preparations made by grid operators amid record-setting demand on the system.
“This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for. And so that is really the result that we’re seeing,” Woodfin told the AP.
— Associated Press contributed to this report.
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