The Associated Press reports that the death toll from Hurricane Ike in the United States has reached 57 with 23 of them in Texas. This is regrettable and, in fact, unacceptable. It will be important to take a close look at where and how the loss of life occurred. We need to know where and how the deaths occurred if we are going to prevent similar deaths in the future.
At present, it is still unclear how many people drowned on the coastline from the storm surge. One of the recent deaths reported by the Galveston County Medical Examiner was a victim found drowned in a truck. Two of the dead found in Galveston were dialysis patients who failed to get treatment. One was a cancer patient whose breathing apparatus stopped due to the power outage. I’m sure that these three people had reasons for not evacuating. But it appears that some of these people may have died because they defied the mandatory evacuation orders. Some of those doing door-to-door searches have been told of residents on Galveston Island who stayed on tbe peninsula for the hurricane, but had not been seen since. Authorities may never know if, or how many, people who tried to survive the storm on Galveston Island were washed out to sea.
Currently there are nine deaths reported in the Houston area that occurred after the storm. Although these deaths will be considered indirect deaths (i.e., not caused directly by the hazards of the hurricane), they are just as dead. These indirect deaths include carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators, house fires likely started by candles in the absence of electric power, and debris-clearing work. Most of these indirect deaths could have been prevented by better education.
When a hurricane moves inland and brings heavy rain over large areas, it is often difficult to keep up with the flood related deaths associated with the remnants of the hurricane. There will likely be several people who have died from inland flooding well outside of the areas impacted at landfall. Some of these deaths were likely due to people driving cars through flooded out roadways. If people practiced “Turn Around, Don’t Drown,” lives would likely have been saved.
In Florida after the 2004 hurricanes, many of the indirect deaths occurred when people fell off ladders or off roofs while trying to make repairs to their homes. Let us hope and pray that the death count doesn’t continue to increase in Texas due to similar indirect causes.