Winter Deluge Sweeps Across U.S. with Historic Storms

Northeast and Midwest brace for more snow and ice, as states in the South reel from widespread power outages and dipping temperatures. Direct Relief is responding with medical aid.


Extreme Weather

Snow falls in New York City Thursday as the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory starting at Thursday at 4 a.m. until Friday at 7 p.m. with up to 8 inches of snow expected in parts of New York City. Sweeping winter storms are impacting much of the U.S. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

A second week of winter storms continued to pummel much of the United States after temperatures dropped into the single digits in many places overnight. Nearly 50 people have died across the U.S. as a result of the storms.

Power outages and below-freezing temperatures have proved a deadly combination in some communities. Millions were out of power earlier this week in Texas, but most of the state’s power had been restored by Friday. Many more were under a “boil water” order from local agencies, or lacked water altogether. Treatment plants were running on back-up power, electric well pumps halted without power, and burst pipes interrupted water flow to many homes. More than 1 million residents in Harris County, which includes Houston, were issued these orders, along with many others across the state.

Winter weather wasn’t the only threat to unfold this week. Deadly tornadoes struck the community of Brunswick County, North Carolina. There, a tornado struck dozens of homes in the middle of the night Monday, killing at least three people and injuring 10 others. The rapidly intensifying tornado, which reached 160 miles per hour, touched down with little warning to residents and emergency responders.

Direct Relief’s Response

Direct Relief  has been active in response to both emergencies this week, and has shipped nearly $500,000 in medicine and supplies to nonprofit health centers and clinics throughout Texas, including PPE, personal care products, and chronic disease meds. On Friday, that work continued as Direct Relief prepared multiple shipments for health centers and free clinics across Texas, including facilities in Dallas, Fort Stockton, Albany, Houston, Tomball, Bulverde and Farmer’s Branch.

Shipments of medical aid for Texas communities are prepped for departure at Direct Relief's warehouse on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)
Shipments of medical aid for Texas communities are prepped for departure at Direct Relief’s warehouse on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)

The shipments include Tdap vaccine, insulin, prescription medications, over-the-counter products, water purification bags, solar lights, personal care products, emergency hygiene kits, PPE, and other supplies. The shipments also included emergency power back-up generators, as several health facilities had reported a loss of insulin and other perishable medications due to power loss.

In response to the tornadoes in North Carolina, the organization shipped chronic disease medications including insulin and emergency medical items. The shipment includes support for NCMedAssist, a nonprofit pharmacy providing prescription medicines across the state, free-of-charge.

Direct Relief has responded to multiple disasters throughout both Texas and North Carolina in recent years, including Hurricanes Harvey and Florence.

The organization has been communicating with state and local organizations, including the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, Texas Association of Charitable Clinics, and the North Carolina Community Health Center Association.

The health concerns of extreme storms are myriad, and include risk of exposure to the elements, waterborne illness from lack of reliable water sources, power outages that can disrupt patients dependent on medical devices for care, and evacuations that can separate people from supplies of medications needed to manage chronic diseases, like diabetes and asthma. These conditions, if left untreated, can send a person into medical crisis, potentially requiring emergency care.

Direct Relief is closely monitoring the weather system and prepared to support other states throughout the U.S. as needed.

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