The number of people who passed away during or soon after the unprecedented Texas February winter storm is as much as four or five times higher than state officials are claiming, a new report from BuzzFeed has found. Using mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outlet estimates that 702 people were killed due to the freezing cold temperatures and statewide power outages, as opposed to the 151 deaths that state officials have reported.
“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 report reads. “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.”
BuzzFeed used a method known as “excess fatalities” to tally the deaths, which includes comparing the number of deaths reported during the storm to the average number of fatalities in the area during normal conditions. The method was recently used to tally the total number of COVID-19 fatalities and has been used after other disasters.
The outlet added that many of the victims were medically vulnerable and had pre-existing health conditions — such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney problems — that their loved ones believe were exacerbated by the frigid temperatures.
Houston Public Media reported on Thursday (May 27) that Texas lawmakers are currently considering a new bill meant to prevent future blackouts. The legislation would regulate some retail electricity plans, establish an energy emergency alert system and more, but has been criticized for not going far enough. Some lawmakers have said the bill won’t penalize non-complicit gas companies enough and doesn’t fully winterize the state’s natural gas infrastructure.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s press secretary said he is “working collaboratively with the House and Senate to find meaningful and lasting solutions to ensure these tragic events are never repeated.”
“The governor joins all Texans in mourning every single life lost during the winter storm and we pray for the families who are suffering from the loss of a loved one,” Press Secretary Renae Eze said.
BuzzFeed said the governor did not respond to questions about the state’s significantly higher death toll.