Veteran Dies After Oxygen Tank Fails During Power Outage, Family Says

A 93-year-old Korean War veteran from Pennsylvania died after his oxygen equipment failed during a power outage, according to his family.

Tom Raith, who had lived at his Pittsburgh home for more than 60 years, died during a 21-hour outage that followed severe storms in the state on Sunday, his family told local TV station WTAE.

The veteran's main oxygen system and portable oxygen unit had failed, WTAE said, while his landline and cellphone were also cut off.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission told Newsweek its "independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement is in the process of gathering information about this incident."

Raith's daughter, Janet Zreliak, told WTAE that she had become concerned about her father on Monday when he did not answer the phone.

Zreliak said she spoke to her father every day and had visited him a day earlier, staying with him until 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

She then contacted one of her father's neighbors, who claimed the power had been out for 21 hours on her father's street.

Zreliak said: "When he told me for how long it [the power] was out, I thought, 'Oh my God,' so I came flying down here."

WTAE reported that Zreliak discovered her father dead at his home.

"I walk in the living room. My dad's just slumped over, like on his pillow. And his oxygen was hanging out of his nose. And I just screamed. I grabbed him and it was so cold," she said.

Raith's energy supplier was Duquesne Light, and Zreliak told WTAE that she wanted an answer from the company "as to why something like this has to happen."

She added: "This was uncalled for. Why would power be off for that many hours?Because my dad, there was nothing wrong with him that he would not—there was no reason for him to die."

In a statement to Newsweek, Duquesne Light said: "We were not aware of Mr. Raith's condition."

The company added that outages had been reported "during the height of the storm Sunday evening" at a local hospital, a nursing home and assisted living facility, a high-rise building, a television station and another utility.

"Mr. Raith's home had power restored in less than 24 hours as crews repaired a damaged circuit caused by a fallen tree in the area that had impacted 500 customers," Duquesne Light said.

According to the statement, the company posted reminders on its social media channels on Sunday, encouraging customers to get in contact by phone, or via its mobile app or website, to report outages in their area.

"We encourage customers to share this information with us and their local fire department so we can assist accordingly during their time of need.

"We thank Mr. Raith for his service and extend our deepest sympathy to his family as they grieve the loss of their father," the company told Newsweek.

A spokesperson for Duquesne Light had earlier told WTAE: "While we have not been contacted by the Raith family, our hearts go out to them during this difficult time. Sunday's storm was the most severe storm we've experienced this year.

"It left widespread damage across our service territory, and the additional storm on Monday evening impacted our restoration efforts."

Newsweek has also contacted the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate for comment.

CBS Pennsylvania reported on Monday that tens of thousands of people were left without power after Sunday's storms, which brought heavy rainfall, wind and hail to western Pennsylvania.

Nearly 10,000 Duquesne Light customers were without power at around 7:30 a.m. on Monday, according to CBS Pennsylvania. The company has nearly 600,000 customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties.

Penn Power, which provides energy to over 160,000 customers in western Pennsylvania, was also hit by the outages. About 1,500 of its customers were without power at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, CBS Pennsylvania reported.

Update 6/30/21 11:10 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add a comment from Duquesne Light.

Power lines seen over a Pennsylvania town.
Power lines seen over the town of Goldsboro, Pennsylvania, in March 2019. A 93-year-old Korean War veteran reportedly died after his oxygen equipment failed during a power outage in Pittsburgh. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images