Houston Weather: Faces Without Power After Weeks of Storms, 4 Killed

HOUSTON (AP) — Power outages in parts of Houston could last for weeks, an official warned Friday, as thunderstorms with hurricane-force winds tore through the city, knocking out power to nearly 1 million homes and businesses in the region and blowing out windows. Down town heights and overturned vehicles.

The National Weather Service said it confirmed a 110 mph (177 kph) tornado near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress in Harris County.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said crews are still trying to determine the extent of damage and the death toll from Thursday’s storm. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said four people and five others were dead.

“It was intense. It was intense. It was quick, and most Houstonians didn’t have time to put themselves out of harm’s way,” Whitmire said at a news conference.

As several transmission towers came down, Hidalgo urged patience. Thousands of utility workers rushed to the area where power had already been restored to nearly 200,000 customers. Another 100,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, down from a peak of 215,000.

“We should be talking about this disaster in weeks, not days,” Hidalgo said.

He said he heard “horror stories of nothing but horror and powerlessness” when the storm arrived. The weather service also reported straight-line winds of 100 mph (161 km/h) in downtown Houston and the suburbs of Baytown and Galena Park.

Noelle Delgado’s heart sank Thursday night when she visited the animal rescue organization Houston Pets Alive, where she is the executive director. The dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — were unharmed, but the awning was torn, the sign was defaced and water was leaking inside. With power outages for some time and temperatures predicted to climb into the 90s, she hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

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“I can definitely tell this storm is a little different,” he said. “It felt terrible.”

Yesenia Guzman, 52, worried about getting paid while the power was out at the restaurant she worked at in the Houston suburb of Katy.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill. The streets were littered with trees, debris and broken glass. A wall of a building collapsed.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes for more than 400,000 students and government offices closed. City officials urged people to avoid towns and stay off roads, many of which are flooded or lined with downed power lines and malfunctioning traffic lights.

Whitmire said at least 2,500 traffic lights were out. He also warned the robbers that “Police are in force, including 50 state troopers who have been deployed to the area to stop the robbery.”

Rapper Trey Tha Truth, in yellow, cuts down on a tree that fell on top of his car as a result of severe thunderstorms that moved through downtown, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Officials said at least two of the deaths were caused by falling trees and another by a crane blown over by strong winds.

Whitmire’s office posted a photo on social media site X on Friday showing the mayor signing a disaster declaration, which paves the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance.

The problems extended to the city’s suburbs, with emergency officials in neighboring Montgomery County describing the damage to transmission lines as “catastrophic.”

High-voltage transmission towers toppling power lines pose a double challenge for the utility company because the damage affects transmission and distribution systems, says Alexandria Van Meyer, a power and energy expert.

“It’s very common to have damage in the distribution system, which is, you know, not robust,” Van Meyer said, referring to power lines that are more susceptible to wind damage.

How quickly repairs are made depends on a variety of factors, including the time it takes to assess the damage, replacement equipment, roadwork access issues and crew availability. Centerpoint Energy on Friday hired 1,000 employees and had pending requests for 5,000 more line workers and plant professionals.

Unlike the 2021 statewide shutdown, the damage is localized, which will allow resources to be more easily dispatched to other jurisdictions, Van Meyer said. He cautioned that while customers may prefer an aggressive repair timeline, it must proceed carefully and methodically.

“Because if you try to fix something like this in a hurry, if you try to restore power in a hurry, you can hurt people. You can put workers at risk. You can put other people at risk. You can blow up equipment, and it takes a long time to replace,” Van Meyer said.

The storms didn’t let up Friday. Scattered, severe thunderstorms with tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds are possible in Gulf Coast states. Heavy to heavy rain is possible for eastern Louisiana and central Alabama, according to the National Weather Service. Flood watches and warnings were in place Friday for Houston and areas to the east.

The Storm Prediction Center’s website showed a report of a tornado in Convent, Louisiana, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) from New Orleans, downing several trees and power poles.

A suspected tornado hit the Romville area of ​​St. James Parish Thursday night, damaging some homes and downing trees, but no injuries or fatalities were reported, parish officials said in a social media post Friday morning.

Wind gusts reached 84 mph (135 km/h) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and 82 mph (132 km/h) at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, said Tim Erickson, a meteorologist with the New Orleans and Baton Rouge Weather Service office.

The New Orleans and Baton Rouge office issued flash flood warnings through Saturday.

A heavy storm hit the Houston area In the first week of MayHigh water led to several rescues, including some from the roofs of flooded homes.

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School districts across the Houston area canceled classes Friday, and the story was updated to correct the spelling of Cypress, not just the Houston Independent School District.

Broken glass covers the street outside the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Houston, Thursday, May 16, 2024, after a severe thunderstorm hit Houston.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Broken glass covers the street outside the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Houston, Thursday, May 16, 2024, after a severe thunderstorm hit Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Houston police officers remove a fallen tree at Prairie and Travis Streets downtown after heavy thunderstorms Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston.  (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Houston police officers remove a fallen tree at Prairie and Travis Streets downtown after heavy thunderstorms Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Associated Press reporters Jamie Stenkle in Dallas and Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen contributed.

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