By Stephanie Chao, the Eye on Taiwan staff writer
The cold snap that brought low temperatures all over Taiwan in the past week has killed close to 300 people in Taiwan and caused at least NT$30 million in lost farm products.
According to the National Fire Agency which gathered relevant data about the recent cold spell impact, at least 261 people in 17 local cities and counties, including 55 from Taipei and 42 from New Taipei City, were killed because of the chilly weather.
Most of the deaths were found among senior citizens aged between 60 to 70, and heart complications caused by the cold weather were cited as the cause of their deaths, officials and doctors said.
A 2-year-old grandson was found with the bodies of an elderly couple, alone for two days in Keelung, local media reports said.
The sudden deaths or cardiac arrests often occurred in the early mornings or at night. Those aged 70 years old and above are the most vulnerable — they made up 53% of the deaths in Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung.
Though, age is not always a factor. A 32-year-old man in New Taipei City recently died of heart complications caused by his flu, coupled with the low temperature, doctors said.
Another cold snap casualty, a woman aged 44, was diagnosed with diabetes. She arrived at the hospital with no vital signs, doctors said.
In Keelung, reports say the seven deaths related to the cold snap had heart diseases.
Elsewhere in Taiwan, 14 elderly citizens aged between 70 and 80 died due to the cold weather in Miaoli; eight in Hualien and two in Hsinchu City. In central Taiwan, there were 87 cases of people who died due to the cold snap.
Taichung Fire Department released a statement, saying that only doctors or prosecutors could determine whether a death was tied to the cold weather.
Three deaths were confirmed in Changhua County, while in Nantou, a 72-year-old truck driver had a heart attack as he was driving, causing him to crash into a wall on the side of the road. In Taitung, two deaths were reported, found in their houses with no vital signs.
Warm weather forecast
Meanwhile, the temperature was expected to go up over the weekend with a high of 20 degrees Celsius on Sunday across the island, the Central Weather Bureau said.
However, the bureau noted that temperature range could reach as far as 10 degrees. In Western Taiwan, temperatures could plunge to less than 10 degrees C at night.
While warmer temperatures are forecasted around Taiwan during the day on Sunday, the bureau also warned northern and eastern Taiwan of higher precipitation levels.
Yet, another cold front and chilly northeasterly winds will arrive next Thursday, according to the bureau.
Take note of daily habits to avoid illness or death
According to Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital’s Chest Medicine Department doctor Huang Shuan, daily habits could decide whether a person might succumb to illness or death in the face of a cold snap.
He advised that people, regardless of age, should take their time when getting up from their warm, cozy beds during winter. Huang said a person’s body functions, including their blood vessels, will seize up when the cold temperature suddenly hits their skin, leading to possible health complications.
He also advised people to wash their faces or brush their teeth using warm water. Huang noted that even with a quick splash of cold water to the face could lead to blood vessels in the skin of one’s face to seize up. People are advised to quickly dress up after their showers.
In his experience, Huang noted that a lot of his patients who died of sudden deaths more often than not, had ignored keeping their ears and necks warm, and advised people to use scarves to cover their necks, where many nerves and blood vessels are found, or an earmuff, since ears lack enough fat to keep the area warm.
Also, people heading out should keep in mind that their clothing layers are important as well. The “sandwich” method, where one could wear an undershirt, topped by a sweater and a coat on the most outer layer, is a correct and more feasible way to dress and keep warm, Huang said.
A person would not be able to retain their body temperatures if they dressed in the wrong order, he warned.
He also advised people who often exercise to warm up properly, to avoid suddenly stopping after strenuous exercise, head into mountainous environments with low oxygen levels, or partake in unfamiliar exercises. Those circumstances noted are the most common deaths related to exercise, Huang said.
Farm lossesThe cold spell also caused the losses of some NT$30.45 million in various farm products, including NT$9.89 million in fish pond culture, the Ministry of Agriculture said.
Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan suffered the worst hit with a loss of NT$20.11 million, followed by Tainan’s NT$9.19 million, Chiayi’s NT$700,000 and Hsinchu’s NT$450,000.