Houston Area struggles to Recover from Storms, Floods

7 Dead, 900,000 without power

HARRIS COUNTY – An powerful storm, with high winds to 100 mph and heavy rain, struck the area Thursday night, catching many residents by surprise. Damage was widespread, including fallen trees, downed power lines, and snarled traffic.

Centerpoint Energy reported over 900,000 customers without power a few hours after the storm hit, but had reduced this number to about 700,000 by Friday. They cautioned that some customers might not get power restored until next week, due to broken main transmission lines and towers.

Deaths due to weather were initially reported at 4 persons, but by week’s end this number had risen to at least 7. First responders cited traffic accidents and fallen trees as major causes of the deaths.

County Judge Hidalgo, and Houston Mayor Whitmire made a joint statement on Friday about the extent of damage, admonishing safety precautions for everyone, and calling the next week a “Recovery” period and asking for patience from residents.

Judge Hidalgo said that she had requested disaster assistance from the federal government, citing the unique situation of two disasters within a week of each other, the flooded rivers and now the windstorm. Authorities confirmed that two EF-1 tornadoes had struck in Cypress and near Waller.

Comments from the news conference:

Severe storms tore through the Houston area Thursday evening, causing widespread damage, killing at least four people and leaving nearly 900,000 CenterPoint Energy customers without power.

Fierce winds knocked over power lines, blew out windows and toppled trees. The National Weather Service said gusts of about 60 mph to 75 mph were measured, with the highest winds reported at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William Hobby Airport, Cypress and east Harris County.

“We’ve had, unfortunately, four fatalities,” Mayor John Whitmire said at a news briefing. “We’re still in recovery mode.” Whitmire said winds reached as high as 100 mph in some places.

With much of the city without power, Houston ISD canceled class for Friday after coordinating with city officials. Aldine, Cy-Fair, Goose Creek and Spring Branch school districts also canceled Friday classes.

“Downtown is a mess,” said Whitmire, who encouraged the business community to allow employees to work from home while city crews cleaned up debris and broken glass on streets and sidewalks.

“We’re in recovery mode,” Whitmire said, adding it would take 24 hours to get things cleared and running in some areas, 48 hours in others.

Firefighters were taking live wires off highways, the mayor said, urging people to stay away from downtown because of the glass and debris.

“It’s all hands on deck tonight,” Whitmire said. “Downtown is a mess. Stay at home tonight, stay at home tomorrow.”

The number of outages overwhelmed CenterPoint Energy, which warned customers their outage updates “as well as our ability to provide estimated restoration times may be delayed or unavailable,” asking for patience.

The storm halted the Astros game and forced ground strops at both airports.

An army of tow truck drivers was out pulling cars off streets where drivers were no match for flash flooding.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who was in Washington when the storm struck, said multiple transmission towers had collapsed in the western portion of the county, and it was unclear how long it will take to clean up roadways and restore power.

“What we know so far is that at least four people are reported dead, there are widespread power outages and infrastructure damage to the power grid, as well as significant property damage.” Hidalgo said in a statement Thursday night.

While the worst of the storm is over, Houston Office of Emergency Management spokesperson Brent Taylor warned that Houstonians should stay home for the night.

“Stay off the roads. Don’t go out. The storm itself has passed but that does not necessarily mean it is safe to drive,” Taylor said. “Right now, unless you are absolutely critical or a first responder, you need to stay home or stay where you are.”

Taylor said officials will start looking into the “recovery process” once debris and damages are cleared. In the meantime, Whitmire also urged residents to avoid all unnecessary travel.

As of 8:30 p.m. Thursday evening, more than 896,500 customers were impacted by widespread power outages, according to CenterPoint’s outage tracker. That’s more than 40 percent of the utility’s nearly 2 million customers.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s spokesperson for emergency management said they are trying to respond as quickly as they can to people that need help.

“Everybody’s moving as fast as we can,” Spokesperson Angelica Luna Kaufman said. “Obviously, we’ve been getting a lot of reports of damage, but people are still coming out of their homes, seeing what damage is going on.”

Residents should call 311 to report downed power lines or other damages that impact safety. Only call 911 for life-threatening emergencies.

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