NATIONAL NEWS

Houston residents left sweltering after Beryl with over 1.7 million still lacking power

Jul 9, 2024, 9:16 PM | Updated: Jul 11, 2024, 1:06 am

HOUSTON (AP) — The return of soaring heat in Houston has deepened the misery for people still without power after Hurricane Beryl crashed into Texas and left residents in search of places to cool off and fuel up as the extended outages strained one of the nation’s largest cities.

Frustration mounted that Houston appeared to buckle under a storm less powerful than previous ones and state officials faced questions over whether the power utility that covers much of the area had sufficiently prepared.

Nearly 36 hours after Beryl made landfall, Texas’ lieutenant governor said Tuesday that a sports and event complex would be used to temporarily hold up to 250 hospital patients who are awaiting discharge but cannot be released to homes with no power.

People were coping as best they could.

“We can handle it, but not the kids,” Walter Perez said as he arrived Tuesday at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston, which served as a cooling center and distributed 40-bottle packs of water.

Perez said his wife, 3-year-old son, 3-week-old daughter and his father-in-law retreated from their apartment after a night he described as “bad, bad, bad, bad.”

Highs in the Houston area on Tuesday climbed back into the 90s (above 32.2 Celsius) with humidity that made it feel even hotter. Similar heat and humidity was expected on Wednesday. The National Weather Service described the conditions as potentially dangerous given the lack of power and air conditioning.

Beryl, which made landfall early Monday as a Category 1 hurricane, has been blamed for at least seven U.S. deaths — one in Louisiana and six in Texas — and at least 11 in the Caribbean.

More than 1.7 million homes and businesses around Houston lacked electricity Tuesday night, down from a peak of over 2.7 million on Monday, storms in May killed eight people and left nearly 1 million without power amid flooded streets.

Patrons on Tuesday lined up on one block to eat at KFC, Jack in the Box or Denny’s. Dwight Yell took a disabled neighbor who did not have power to Denny’s for some food.

He complained that city and state officials did not alert residents well enough to a storm initially projected to land much farther down the coast: “They didn’t give us enough warning, where maybe we could go get gas or prepare to go out of town if the lights go out.”

Robin Taylor, who got takeout from Denny’s, has been living a hotel since her home was damaged by storms that hit the city in May. When Beryl hit, her hotel room flooded.

“No WiFi, no power, and it’s hot outside,” Taylor said. “People will die in this heat in their homes.”

Nim Kidd, head of the state’s division of emergency management, emphasized that restoring power was the top priority. CenterPoint Energy in Houston has said it aims to restore power to 1 million customers by the end of Wednesday.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is serving as acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is overseas, said nursing homes and assisted living centers were the highest priority. Sixteen hospitals were running on generator power Tuesday morning, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

An executive for CenterPoint Energy, which covers much of the Houston area, defended the utility’s preparation and response.

“From my perspective to have a storm pass at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, have those crews come in in the late evening, and have everything ready by 5 a.m. to go out and get out and start the workforce is rather impressive because we’re talking about thousands of crews,” Brad Tutunjian, vice president of regulatory policy with CenterPoint Energy, said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Kyuta Allen brought her family to a Houston community center to cool down and use the internet.

“During the day you can have the doors open but at night you’ve got to board up and lock up – lock yourself like into a sauna,” she said.

___

Associated Press journalists Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, congtributed.

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Houston residents left sweltering after Beryl with over 1.7 million still lacking power