At least 5 people in Seattle died from hypothermia during the extreme cold
Update, Jan. 23: The number of deaths has changed. The King County Medical Examiner reported the number of confirmed hypothermia deaths from the recent cold snap has grown to seven as of Monday.
The most recently identified hypothermia victims were a 73-year-old woman in Tukwila and a 63-year-old man who died in Sea-Tac from hypothermia and environmental exposure.
In addition to the seven in King County, a Seattle man also died from cold exposure while in Moses Lake, which is in Grant County, this past Saturday.
Original story posted Jan. 17: King County officials report at least five people have died in Seattle since Thursday, Jan. 11, due to exposure to extreme cold. Subfreezing temperatures and a bit of snow hit Western Washington over the weekend as thousands of people struggle to survive outside.
As temperatures dropped into the teens overnight this weekend, King County activated a handful of severe weather shelters for homeless people to escape the cold.
Seattle City Hall, Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall, and the Salvation Army in SoDo all reported to have served hundreds of people, and each shelter either hit capacity or came close to it.
But with tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness on any given night in King County, those shelters were not enough.
On Tuesday the King County Medical Examiner’s Office announced that at least five people have died from hypothermia since Thursday.
William Macabitaso was found outside, and Mehri Tesfa were both 67. 53-year-old David Tinker died in a residence. Adam Elknation was 37 and died outside.
Jay Anderson, 63, was a wild spirit.
His brother, Marc Anderson, says when they were younger he traveled the world, worked on boats in Alaska, and raced motorbikes.
“He won his first race and a second race and he just was a natural at whatever he put his mind to,” Anderson said.
Jay Anderson lived in his car with his little terrier, Frankie. They loved going to the library and Ballard Commons Park.
Last week, when temperatures dropped below freezing, Anderson died in that car from exposure to the cold.
He and Frankie were parked right outside the library.
“Frankie was in that car for several days,” Anderson said. “Jay passed on the ninth and was found on the 12th. So Frankie was with him the whole time.”
Anderson said Frankie now lives with their sister in Des Moines. Jay Anderson was 63.
“This is heartbreaking news,” said Michele Marchand, an organizer with the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League, which hosts monthly vigils for people who have died in King County while experiencing homelessness.
“We had several homeless come into Harborview with less acute illnesses and one homeless person who arrived with severe hypothermia and is in an ICU,” said Susan Gregg, a spokesperson for UW Medicine.
Public Health – Seattle & King County reports emergency medical services responded to approximately 31 cold-related incidents in the county between Thursday and Monday. The highest one-day count during this event was Friday with 14 calls. For context, the highest one-day count of incidents for cold-related illness was in 2021 with 16.
Health officials stress that homeless people surviving outside are the most at risk of dying from exposure to extreme weather like extreme cold or summer heat. During past Seattle snowstorms, people living in tents have died from fires or carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to stay warm.
On Monday, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) announced the Seattle Center shelter would be open one more night.
“Based on the current forecast, KCRHA and the City of Seattle are extending access to severe weather shelter for an additional night, through the night of Wednesday, January 17,” wrote spokesperson Anne Martens in an email, “Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center will remain open through that night with capacity for 300 people.”
On Wednesday afternoon about four people huddled together outside the Seattle Library’s Ballard branch, just a few feet away from where Anderson died in his car.
Howard Cartwright heated his hands over a propane stove sitting on the ground.
"My gloves got wet and so I was able to use it to dry my gloves up,” Cartwright said, turning his fingers over the blue flame.
Cartwright said he usually sleeps on soft dirt in city parks, but because of the freezing rain he’d stay under the covered library entrance.
"It's tough sleeping out here on the concrete,” he said. “It draws the life from me. In time it kills you being out here on it."
KCRHA announced Thursday that severe weather shelters in Seattle had closed. Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Seattle say the freezing temperatures are done for now but the rain isn't going anywhere.
Update: additional reporting on Anderson and Cartwright was added to this post at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.