NATIONAL NEWS

Some power restored in Houston after Hurricane Beryl, while storm spawns tornadoes as it moves east

Jul 8, 2024, 9:04 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2024, 9:58 pm

An upended tree rests on Bethel Church after Hurricane Beryl moved through the area, Monday, July 8...

An upended tree rests on Bethel Church after Hurricane Beryl moved through the area, Monday, July 8, 2024, in Van Vleck, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

HOUSTON (AP) — Power started to come back for some of the millions of homes and businesses left in the dark when Hurricane Beryl slammed into the Houston area, while the weakened storm moved east, spawning suspected tornadoes and causing more damage.

Beryl was blamed for killing several people in Texas on Monday and at least one person in Louisiana, officials said.

After a peak Monday of more than 2.7 million customers around Houston without power, the numbers improved to more than 2.4 million homes and businesses lacking electricity by Monday night, according to PowerOutage.us. The lack of cooling to people’s homes, downed power lines and non-functioning traffic lights led officials to ask residents to stay home if possible.

“Houstonians need to know we’re working around the clock so you will be safe,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said Monday at a media briefing, urging residents to also know the dangers of high water, to stay hydrated and to check on their neighbors.

Beryl later Monday weakened into a tropical depression with maximum wind speeds of about 35 mph (56 kph). The storm still packed a punch, and the National Weather Service confirmed on social media Monday evening that tornadoes had been spotted in northeastern Louisiana. Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said in a Facebook post that a woman was killed in the Benton area when a tree fell on her home.

Dozens of tornado warnings were issued in Louisiana and Arkansas on Monday evening and they continued into the night.

While weakened, Beryl threatened to unleash harsh weather over several more states in coming days.

Texas state and local officials warned it could take several days to fully restore power after Beryl came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane and toppled 10 transmission lines and knocked down trees that took down power lines.

Beryl on Tuesday was far less powerful than the Category 5 behemoth that tore a deadly path of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean last weekend. But its winds and rains were still powerful enough to knock down hundreds of trees that had already been teetering in water-saturated earth, and strand dozens of cars on flooded roadways.

“We’re not past any difficult conditions,” said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is out of the country.

Patrick said CenterPoint Energy was bringing thousands of additional workers to restore power, with top priorities including nursing homes and assisted living centers.

At least two people were killed when trees fell on homes in Texas, and a third person, a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department, was killed when he was trapped in flood waters under a highway overpass, Whitmire said.

The loss of power was an all-too familiar experience for Houston: Powerful storms had just ripped through the area in May, killing eight people, leaving nearly 1 million without power and flooding numerous streets.

Residents without power after Beryl 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 said she had already been without power for several hours 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.

Power crews were working to restore service as quickly as possible, an urgent priority for homes also left without air conditioning in the middle of summer. Temperatures in the 90s (above 32.2 Celsius) were expected Tuesday. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory that said the area heat index could reach 105 F (40.5 C).

The state was opening cooling centers as well as food and water distribution centers, said Nim Kidd, chief of state emergency operations.

Beryl’s rains pounded Houston and other areas of the coast on Monday, reclosing streets in neighborhoods that had already been washed out by previous storms. 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 reported at least 25 water rescues by Monday afternoon, mostly for people with vehicles stuck in floodwaters.

Many streets and neighborhoods throughout Houston were littered with fallen branches and other debris. The buzz of chainsaws filled the air Monday afternoon as residents chopped up knocked-down trees and branches that had blocked streets and sidewalks.

Patrick warned that flooding could last for days as rain continued to fall on already saturated ground.

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

President Joe Biden was getting regular updates on the storm after it made landfall and called the Houston mayor on Monday, the White House said. He told the mayor his administration will make sure Texans have the resources they need to get through the storm and recovery.

Several companies with refineries or industrial plants in the area reported that the power disruptions necessitated the flaring of gases at the facilities.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. said it conducted a “safe combustion of excess gases” at its Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, but did not provide information on the amount of gas flared or how long it would continue. Formosa Plastics Corporation and Freeport LNG also reported flaring related to Beryl, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Companies have 24 hours to share emissions data after the flaring stops, a representative from the TCEQ said in an email.

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. In Jamaica, officials said Monday that island residents will have to contend with food shortages after Beryl destroyed over $6.4 million in crops and supporting infrastructure.

Beryl was forecast to bring more strong rain and winds into additional states over the coming days. One of those, Missouri was already dealing with a wet summer. Heavy rains unrelated to the storm prompted several water rescues around the city of Columbia, where rivers and creeks were already high ahead of Beryl’s expected arrival on Tuesday.

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Associated Press reporters Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas; Corey Williams in Detroit; Julie Walker in New York; Melina Walling in Chicago; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.

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Some power restored in Houston after Hurricane Beryl, while storm spawns tornadoes as it moves east