As Winter Storm Death Toll Exceeds Hurricane Harvey, Scope Of Loss Becomes Clearer
When severe winter weather caused the state’s power grid to partially collapse, millions of Texans lost power for days. Those who suffered the most were among the most vulnerable populations, according to an analysis of the latest data from the Harris County Medical Examiners’ Office.
When the winter freeze hit last month, Brandi Campanile was regularly checking in with her mom, Gloria Anderson, and her stepdad, Carrol Anderson, who goes by Andy. She said she spoke to her mom Tuesday morning and everything was fine.
But a few hours later, her phone started ringing again.
It was a paramedic, calling to tell Campanile that her stepfather had died. In shock, she and her boyfriend got to her parents' house in Crosby as fast as they could.
"It was horrible," she said. "I can’t express it any other way."
It took her a while to piece together what had happened. Her stepdad was a 75-year-old Vietnam War Veteran who used an oxygen tank. When the power went out, he lost the ability to use his stationary machine.
On that Tuesday morning, a pipe burst in their home. Anderson exhausted himself trying to get a generator set up so that his wife could use a shop-vac to clean up the water that was flooding their kitchen. Out of breath, he went out to his truck to get a portable tank that he kept there. But it was also empty, Campanile said.
"Because he can't utilize oxygen and circulation like we do to keep himself warmer, his temperature dropped too fast," she said. "He tried to get out of the truck. He got a leg out and then he just slumped over."
The Harris County Medical Examiner said he died of hypothermia.
But Campanile wants him to be remembered for more than that. A Vietnam veteran, Andy later worked for the Port Terminal Railroad Association for decades. Campanile said he was a man of few words and facial expressions, but cared deeply for those he loved.
"Whenever my son was born he turned into a big softy. They'd walk around wearing matching outfits. They were so cute, going on train rides," she said. "He was a good man."
He met her mom, Gloria, while she was working in a video store.
"This man walked into a video store and fell in love with a little lady that was going through her own troubles," Campanile said. "He walked in and took care of her and protected her, which is what she needed."
Statewide, an estimated 111 people died during last month's winter freeze, surpassing the death toll of Hurricane Harvey, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
That number could still rise as more deaths are verified.
In Harris County, at least 31 people lost their lives. Houston Public Media reviewed the latest data from the county medical examiner and found more than half of those who died were over the age of 60. The majority had pre-existing medical conditions, and 42% were Black.