- W. Gardner Selby American-Statesman Staff
More than 40 Texans have died, mostly one by one and nearly entirely in floodwaters, as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
That grim count — reflecting deaths over five-plus days from Aransas County, where the hurricane crashed ashore, to Southeast Texas, where it lingered and dumped as much as 50 inches of rain in places — doesn’t come from state or federal authorities.
It’s based first on 36 deaths reported by news organizations and, in many cases, confirmed by local government statements or American-Statesman interviews of officials with county sheriff’s offices or aides to medical examiners tasked with accepting bodies and determining, by autopsy, causes of death.
Second, the Harris County Forensic Institute, which had confirmed 17 drowning deaths through Thursday evening, held an additional 10 likely “flood-drowning/accident” victims awaiting autopsy, spokeswoman Tricia Bentley said.
Sometimes it’s hard to say if weather is to blame.
The institute says one Harvey victim fell to natural causes: Ronald Zaring, 82, was an evacuee found unresponsive on a charter bus; his identified cause of death was heart disease and pneumonia.
Earlier, the hurricane was initially cited when an elderly woman died over the weekend in Santa Fe, in Galveston County; her oxygen tank failed when electricity went out, the Houston Chronicle reported. John Florence, chief investigator for the Galveston County Medical Examiner, later suggested it’s most accurate to describe deaths of individuals whose medical treatments may have been affected by the storm as “possibly” hurricane-related.
Florence also advised that the widely reported death of Timothy Nolan, 52, a homeless man whose body was found in a Sam’s Club parking lot in La Marque, wasn’t storm-related. “He did not drown,” Florence said.
Another cause-of-death judgment call: In Montgomery County, Lisa Marie Jones of Porter, 60, died Monday when an oak tree fell on her mobile home; she was sleeping in a bedroom. A Montgomery County Police Reporter news story quoted a justice of the peace attributing the fallen tree to soil loosened by Harvey rains.
The names of at least 15 of the monster storm’s victims — including a Rockport man who died in a house fire as the hurricane made landfall — had yet to be released as of late Thursday.
Rockport’s mayor, C.J. Wax, said that while the fire death was believed to be hurricane-related, an investigation could take a while. “I’ve got 10,000 people” living in Rockport, Wax said, “not a coroner among them.”
Wax otherwise marveled at the absence of other reported deaths in the rural county. “We are very blessed,” Wax said.
The institute at midday Thursday identified six family members who were passengers of a van washed off a road into a bayou in Harris County, ranging in age from patriarch Manuel Q. Saldivar, 84, to the youngest of four minors in the van, Xavier Adam Saldivar, 8, and Daisy Saldivar, 6.
Also identified: Jorge Raul Perez, 33, and Yahir Rubio-Vizuet, 45, who were found floating in floodwaters. The two had been among passengers on a boat attempting a rescue from Greens Bayou in northeast Houston, the Daily Mail reported. The story said two men — Benjamin Vizuet and Gustavo Rodriguez — were still missing.
After that incident, spokesman Jason Spencer of the Harris County sheriff's office said: "We have had a handful of rescuers go missing. It's dangerous work."