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Suspected hypothermia deaths mount in Texas, including boy who died in his bed
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Suspected hypothermia deaths mount in Texas, including boy who died in his bed

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Insurance companies are expecting an unprecedented number of claims across Texas after this week’s winter storm and resulting infrastructure damage. Here’s what they say you need to do if your property was affected.

DALLAS — With the snow and ice clearing in Texas after days of unusually cold temperatures, bodies are being found of people who likely froze to death as they struggled to stay warm after electricity was cut to millions of homes.

Of the around 70 deaths attributed to the snow, ice and frigid temperatures nationwide, more than a dozen were people who perished in homes that had lost their heat, and most of those were in Texas. They include an 11-year-old boy, Cristian Pavon Peneda, who died in his bed in Conroe, near Houston, and two older men found dead in their homes in the small West Texas town of Buffalo Gap in Taylor County.

Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop said his office received many calls in recent days asking for checks on friends or family members who may be suffering due to the power outages.

"I can think of probably one point in one hour we probably got 10 of those calls," said Bishop, adding that some of the county's roads were covered in 4-foot-deep snow drifts.

Winter Weather Freezing to Death

In this Feb. 15, 2021, photo, Eithan Colindres wears a winter coat inside after the apartment his family lives in lost power following an overnight snowfall in Houston.

Hypothermia can set in if the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and if it falls below about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees.

"After hours and hours, it leads to a very dangerous condition," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for Fort Worth area ambulance provider MedStar, said most of the hypothermia calls they received were from people in their own homes, where temperatures had dipped to 50 degrees or lower.

MedStar reached a peak on Wednesday with 77 hypothermia calls, Zavadsky said. Some people reported numb hands and feet, while others had more severe symptoms.

"You had people who had been so cold for so long that they were shivering uncontrollably, they may have had a decreased level of consciousness, which is not uncommon when you are in hypothermia for a prolonged period of time," he said.

Some who were transported to hospitals had reached the point they were no longer shivering, "which is a very bad sign," Zavadsky said.

At first, the body will try to generate heat by shivering and boosting its heart rate. But if internal temperatures keep dropping, "those things start to slow down," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, an emergency room doctor at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. The body will restrict blood circulation to extremities to maintain blood in the core and keep internal organs warm.

Left untreated, hypothermia begins to affect the brain, making it hard to think clearly or move easily.

"You might not understand exactly what's going on," Potfhof said. "And that's a vicious cycle because you can't take the action you need to."

Some of the older people who died in Texas were found outside their homes. It wasn't immediately clear what prompted them to go outside.

Poor circulation eventually prevents the heart, brain, and other vital organs from functioning, leading to death. About 32 people die from the cold annually in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

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