Officials warn of deadly exposure to cold; more take cover in shelters

HARLINGEN — Ambulances are caring for more residents suffering potentially deadly exposure to freezing temperatures amid a historic cold wave.

Meanwhile, officials are urging residents living in poorly insulated homes and lacking protective clothing to seek shelter.

“We’re definitely seeing hypothermic calls,” Rene Perez, South Texas Emergency Care Foundation’s transport director, said Tuesday.

“We’re getting seven to 10 calls a day that have something to do with hypothermia just experiencing being in the cold for a long time,” he said. “Some folks are out in the street. We’re seeing some in homes (where) the power’s out. For those with medical issues, it starts affecting your body.”

In San Benito, Mayor Rick Guerra was knocking on residents’ doors to offer help.

“I went to check up on them,” he said.

Guerra said he’s working with a church to offer residents blankets.

“As far as the people, I know they’re mad,” he said. “They want to know, ‘When’s the power coming up?’”

Meanwhile, freezing temperatures led to about 40 water line breaks Monday night.

Across town, city crews were shutting down water meters at homes where freezing temperatures ruptured utility lines.

City Hall issues warning

At Harlingen’s City Hall, officials are warning residents to seek shelter if they live in poorly insulated homes or lack protective clothing.

By Tuesday, freezing temperatures had hovered over the area for about 16 hours, Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said.

“We’re strongly encouraging people to seek proper shelter,” he said. “If they don’t have adequate houses or clothing to protect themselves, then seek adequate shelter. Sixteen hours of freezing temperatures — in the Valley we’re not prepared for weather like this.”

With power outages across the Valley, Loaves & Fishes has opened a shelter for those looking for a warm place to sleep. They have set up 10 cots in the lobby, 20 in the dining room which could accommodate 100 cots.

Taking shelter

At Loaves and Fishes in Harlingen, workers were setting up cots as they awaited families to come in from the cold.

Bill Reagan, the agency’s executive director, said a family of eight and another family of three were planning to stay.

On Monday night, workers set up cots for a family of five at the agency, which had opened its shelter to a total of 25 people.

“This is the most I’ve seen coming in because of the cold weather that I can recall,” Reagan, who’s served as the agency’s executive director for 12 years, said. “Very rarely do people come in because of the cold weather. Maybe they’re afraid of COVID or homeless people.”

On Tuesday, after braving days of cold temperatures, some families were coming to warm up, he said.

Like other city leaders, Reagan warned of hypothermia.

“That’s a real concern,” he said. “People aren’t prepared for this. We haven’t had a spell where it’s in the 20s for several days ever.”

“A lot of people don’t have winter clothes and don’t know how to layer their clothes,” he said. “Many houses aren’t properly insulated and they’re on cinder blocks. For homeless people, they don’t have anywhere to go. They’ve been experiencing this cold for 48 hours.”

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