This story was published in partnership with Southerly.
Sheletta Brundidge watched from Cottage Grove, Minn., as severe winter weather descended on her hometown of Houston in February. She worried that snow and ice could shut down power for days, and that temperatures could plummet, leaving Texans freezing in their homes. “I knew they weren’t ready for this,” she said. She pictured people using generators or running their cars in garages to stay warm, putting them at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Brundidge lost five family members to carbon monoxide poisoning after Hurricane Laura devastated Lake Charles, La. last August. Her aunt, two uncles, and two cousins weathered the Category 4 hurricane in one of their homes, but with power shut off during a major heat wave, they ran a generator in the garage to produce electricity. A gust of wind closed the garage door while they were asleep, sending the noxious fumes into the house.
Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, is particularly dangerous because it has no taste or smell. According to the CDC, symptoms are “flu-like,” including headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, and chest pain. Breathing in a lot of the gas can cause a person to pass out or die.
As temperatures dropped to record lows in the single digits, and power went down for hours if not days, millions of Texans were largely left to fend for themselves as they figured out how to stay warm. The storm stretched into…