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6 Investigates: Nueces County Judge Canales claims people died during freeze

Judge Barbara Canales
Posted at 12:26 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 23:18:53-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Questions surround the death toll from the February freeze.

State officials report 151 people died in the storm statewide though there were no deaths, they say, in Nueces County.

This fact contradicts what one of Nueces County’s top officials said during comments about the number of deaths days after the freeze.

"People did die by the way,” said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales at a commissioner’s meeting on February 24, 2021. “We couldn't save everybody. But we saved as many as we could.”

That was 11 days after the storm crippled the state's power grid. Since then, the state confirms two deaths in our area, including one in Aransas County, the other in Brooks County. But none were in Nueces County.

We asked Canales about comments she made at the meeting about people who died in area hospitals and that the hospitals, in a way, failed people. We wanted to know if she still stood by those comments.

During a Zoom interview, Canales said, “I think that the proper way to really describe it is, we may have lost lives but we will never know truly if 30 more minutes in a heart attack situation, but for a freezing road, could have saved that life, right, throughout South Texas.”

The main issue was water, or lack of it, at our hospitals, Canales told fellow commissioners in February.

"How dire the situation was for at least 48 hours,” Canales also told commissioners during that same February commissioner’s meeting. “Where we were pumping water to all three major hospitals.”

Canales went on to say, “It was incredibly gut-wrenching to know that all of our hospitals were failing because we could not get potable water.”

We asked if Canales may have jumped the gun when she made that comment.

“I think that it was absolutely the truth,” Canales told us. “If you had all CEOs of all the hospitals, it is gut-wrenching and they were desperate for water.”

Canales added, “And had we not gotten that water, it would've absolutely been tragic.”

Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni disputes the claim that people were dying because of a lack of water at area hospitals.

"No hospital director in this county called me to say, we are losing lives because your water pressure is low,” Zanoni told KRIS 6 News. “There was never any issue of loss of life or potential loss of life. We would have known. The mayor would've gotten a call. I would've gotten a call.”

Instead, Zanoni says he was fielding calls about the need for more water trucks and low water pressure.

He said the city and county worked together to solve problems at the hospitals created by the freeze.

"With (Christus) Spohn (Hospital) Shoreline being the major trauma center for the city, they had ample water and water pressure,” Zanoni told us. “Other hospitals did have that issue with water pressure.”

We checked with area hospitals and a spokesperson for Christus Spohn told us in part, "We are fortunate that we lost no one because of lack of water.... (and that )...we worked with the city and county to connect Christus Spohn Hospital-Shoreline to fire-hydrants. That allowed the hospital to push water into our facility to heat the building."

That spokesperson also acknowledged several locations including Alice, Beeville, Shoreline and South all lost water pressure at South, they ".... transferred dialysis patients to another facility for one day..."

This, while a representative from Corpus Christi Medical Center told us in part, "No deaths to report... (that) Extreme weather conditions caused intermittent water pressure and power issues (but) thanks to our emergency management team....(we were) able to maintain electricity and a water supply to ensure our services continued for the community...."

We also asked Driscoll Children’s Hospital and a spokesperson told us in part, "...no one died as a result of water issues at the hospital... Water pressure was low... (that they) worked closely with the city and county through the emergency... (that) emergency protocols were actually implemented Friday before the storm..."

When asked if they told county representatives that people had died or would die without water delivery, they told us, "...No, everyone understood the need to get water quickly to the area hospitals..."

"I think a lot of entities, including the city and even residential customers and homeowners, realize that they are vulnerable under certain weather conditions and we need to reevaluate our emergency preparedness plans,” Zanoni told us.

When we asked Canales if she thought we would be ready if and when this happens again, she told us, “I think we will be.”

Adding, they "were in crisis and we answered the call and because the two of us worked together, we were able to address their needs and mitigate death and save lives.”

The bill for the Nueces County water deliveries is nearly $250,000.

Commissioners approved two invoices on June 9, 2021. One for nearly $60,000 and the other for $188,000.

The question now is whether the County will be reimbursed for these expenses.

Canales told commissioners "it could be... It's not reimbursable just yet."