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Frustrations mount in the Houston heat after Beryl moves on and leaves millions without power

Jul 9, 2024, 4:22 PM | Updated: 4:45 pm

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 08: A person looks out towards the flooded interstate after Hurricane Beryl s...

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 08: A person looks out towards the flooded interstate after Hurricane Beryl swept through the area on July 08, 2024 in Houston, Texas. Tropical Storm Beryl developed into a Category 1 hurricane as it hit the Texas coast late last night. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

HOUSTON (AP) — Many of the millions left without power after Hurricane Beryl crashed into Texas sweltered and grumbled Tuesday as the storm gutted access to air conditioning, food and water, and smothering heat and humidity draped over the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Frustration mounted that Houston appeared to buckle under a storm not as powerful as previous ones. State officials were questioned whether utilities were prepared in advance, and at least one said they would withhold judgement until after the lights were turned back on.

“We can handle it, but not the kids,” said Walter Perez, 49, as he arrived early Tuesday at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston, which served as a cooling center and distributed 40-bottle packs of water to cars that drove up.

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

A heat advisory took effect through Wednesday in the Houston area and beyond, with temperatures expected to soar into the 90s (above 32.2 Celsius) and humidity that could make it feel as hot as 105 degrees (40.5 Celsius). 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. At midday Tuesday, it was a post-tropical cyclone centered over Arkansas and was forecast to bring heavy rains and possible flooding to a swath extending to the Great Lakes and Canada.

Hurricane Beryl becomes ‘even stronger’ as it churns toward Jamaica after devastating Grenada

More than 2 million homes and businesses around Houston lacked electricity Tuesday, down from a peak of over 2.7 million on Monday, according to PowerOutage.us. For many, it was a miserable repeat after storms in May killed eight people and left nearly 1 million without power amid flooded streets.

Food spoiled in listless refrigerators in neighborhoods that pined for air conditioning. Long lines of cars and people queued up at any fast food restaurant, food truck or gas station that had power and was open.

Patrons lined up on one block to eat at KFC, Jack in the Box or Denny’s — or just to get a few minutes in some cooler air. Dwight Yell, 54, had power at his house but took a disabled neighbor, who did not, 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, was getting tired of the same old struggle. She has been living a hotel since her home was damaged by the storms in May. When Beryl hit, her hotel room flooded.

She was angry that Houston didn’t appear prepared to handle the Category 1 storm after it had weathered much stronger ones in the past.

“No WiFi, no power, and it’s hot outside. That’s dangerous for people. That’s really the big issue,” Taylor said. “People will die in this heat in their homes.”

Nim Kidd, head of the state’s division of emergency management, said at a news conference with other officials that restoring power is the No. 1 priority. And in Washington, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration. Emergency crews hope to have power restored to an additional 1 million people by the end of the day, she said.

It could take days to fully return power in Texas after Beryl toppled 10 transmission lines. Top priorities for power restoration include nursing homes and assisted living centers, said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting as governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is out of the country. Sixteen hospitals were running on generator power Tuesday morning, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Patrick urged utilities to restore power “as quickly as they can.” Patrick said he would evaluate later whether utilities had taken proper steps before the storm to mount a swift response.

CenterPoint Energy, which covers much of the Houston area, said it was bringing in about 12,000 workers from around the region to help restore power. A company spokesperson said those workers weren’t staged in the Houston area before the storm hit, noting that forecasts initially predicted it would go much further south.

Kyuta Allen brought her family to a Houston community center to cool down and use the internet for work and the night classes she takes online.

“You can’t really get a lot of stuff done when you are hot,” she said, adding it is also hard to sleep in the heat.

“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.

Lesley Briones, a Harris County commissioner, who visited a community center, said she’s been told of people waiting hours to get gas.

“It’s catastrophic when you lose everything in your fridge and you are living check to check,” Briones said.

Beryl’s strength at midday Tuesday — with sustained winds near 30 mph (48 kph) — wasn’t expected to change much in the next two days. It was forecast to bring heavy rains and possible flash flooding from the lower and mid-Mississippi Valley to the Great Lakes into Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

A flood watch was in effect for parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. A few tornadoes were possible in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, forecasters said.

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry issued a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon for part of that state after trees were knocked down, homes were damaged and thousands lost power.

When Beryl made landfall, it was far less powerful than the Category 5 behemoth that tore a deadly path through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean. But its winds and rains still knocked down hundreds of trees that had already been teetering in saturated earth and stranded dozens of cars on flooded roads.

Beryl was the earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 in the Atlantic. 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.


Contributing to this report were 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.

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Frustrations mount in the Houston heat after Beryl moves on and leaves millions without power