NATIONAL NEWS

Beryl unleashes high winds, heavy rains in Texas, stranding residents and leaving 2M without power

Jul 7, 2024, 9:30 PM | Updated: Jul 8, 2024, 6:16 pm

MATAGORDA, Texas (AP) — Tropical Storm Beryl unleashed heavy rains and powerful winds along the Texas coast on Monday, knocking out power to more than 2 million homes and businesses and flooding streets with fast-rising waters as first responders raced to rescue stranded residents.

Beryl had already cut a deadly path through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean before making a turn, sweeping ashore as a Category 1 hurricane in Texas early Monday, then later weakening to a tropical storm. At least two people were killed. The National Hurricane Center said damaging winds and flash flooding will continue as Beryl continues pushing inland.

More than 2 million homes and businesses in the Houston area were without electricity, CenterPoint Energy officials said. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting governor while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is out of the country, said crews cannot get out to restore it until the wind dies down.

Residents without power were doing their best.

“We haven’t really slept,” said Eva Costancio as she gazed at a large tree that had fallen across electric lines in her neighborhood in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg. Costancio, 67, said she had been without power for about four hours Monday and worried that food in her refrigerator would be spoiled.

“We are struggling to have food and losing that food would be difficult,” she said.

High waters quickly closed streets. In flood-weary Houston, where previous storms had already washed out neighborhoods, television stations on Monday broadcast the dramatic rescue of a man who had climbed to the roof of his pickup truck after it got trapped in fast-flowing waters. Emergency crews used an extension ladder from a fire truck to drop him a life preserver and a tether before moving him to dry land.

Houston officials said they had performed at least 15 high-water rescues and more were ongoing.

“First responders are putting their lives at risk. That’s what they’re trained for. It’s working,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said.

Houston was under a flash-flood warning for most of the morning as heavy rain continued to soak the city. Flood warnings also were in effect across a wide stretch of the Texas coast, where a powerful storm surge pushed water ashore, and further inland as heavy rain continued to fall.

Rosenberg police also noted that one of their high-water vehicles was hit by a falling tree while returning from a rescue, and they urged people to stay off the roads. Video footage showed heavy street flooding in the barrier island city of Galveston.

Two people were killed after trees fell on their houses: a man in the Houston suburb of Humble and a woman in Harris County, authorities said. Hundreds of trees fell in the county, crushing vehicles and damaging homes, said Precinct 4 County Constable Mark Herman.

Patrick warned that flooding could last for days and the storm continues to dump rain onto already saturated ground.

“This is not a one-day event,” he said.

Beryl and the widespread power outages were just the latest weather blows for Houston, where nearly 1 million people lost power when deadly storms ripped through the area in May, killed eight people and brought much of the city to a standstill.

Javier Mejia was one of about 20 people who gathered near the pickup truck rescue site in Houston to take pictures of other submerged vehicles.

“If you don’t have a way through, you’re going to get stuck like that,” Mejia said.

Having experienced previous storms in Houston, Mejia stocked up on food and water before Beryl hit, but forgot gas for his portable generator. He planned to spend the day looking for some.

“I don’t want it to go bad. But if not, we can just fire up the grill,” Mejia said.

President Joe Biden was getting regular updates on the storm after it made landfall, the White House said. The U.S. Coast Guard and FEMA had prepared search and rescue teams, and FEMA collected bottled water, meals, tarps and electric generators in case they are needed.

In the Texas coastal city of Freeport, Patti Richardson said she was riding out the the storm in her 123-year-old house.

“We are sitting in the middle of it. It sounds like we are in a train station, it’s that loud and has been about four hours. We’re just hoping everything holds together,” Richardson said. “You can feel the house shaking. … It’s freaky.”

More than 1,000 flights have been canceled at Houston’s two airports, according to tracking data from FlightAware.

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. The storm ripped off doors, windows and roofs with devastating winds and storm surge fueled by the Atlantic’s record warmth.

Three times during its one week of life, Beryl has gained 35 mph (56 kph) in wind speed in 24 hours or less, the official weather service definition of rapid intensification.

Beryl’s explosive growth into an unprecedented early whopper of a storm indicates the hot water of the Atlantic and Caribbean and what the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the rest of the storm season, experts said.

In Louisiana, heavy bands of rain are expected all day Monday and “the risk is going to be for that heavy rainfall and potential for flash flooding,” National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones said in a Monday morning Facebook Live briefing.

Meteorologists in Louisiana are watching for lingering rainbands, which could drop copious amounts of rain wherever they materialize, as well as “quick, spin-up tornadoes,” said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“It’s just a matter of exactly where that’s going to be,” Jones said. “That’s very difficult to predict more than maybe an hour or so in advance.”

Beryl battered Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane last week, toppling trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Before hitting Mexico, Beryl wrought destruction in Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Three people were reported dead in Grenada, three in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela and two in Jamaica.

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Associated Press reporters Corey Williams in Detroit, Julie Walker in New York contributed, Melina Walling in Chicago and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed.

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Beryl unleashes high winds, heavy rains in Texas, stranding residents and leaving 2M without power