July 19th, 2024

Beryl leaves hot misery in the Houston area. It still threatens flooding on its path northward

By Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press on July 9, 2024.

HOUSTON (AP) – Many of the millions left without power after Hurricane Beryl crashed into Texas, killing several people and unleashing flooding, sweltered and fretted Tuesday as the storm deprived them of air conditioning, food and water in dangerous heat.

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).

“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.”

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.

More than 2.1 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.

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 another 1 million people by the end of the day, she said.

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.

Damonte Oliver, 32, visited Osteen’s Lakewood Church with his girlfriend and her mother. Their apartment had lost power for days after the May storm.

“I know they are trying to do their best to get everything back on. It’s just a waiting game on how long it’s going to take,” he said before walking to a convenience store to buy cigarettes.

“I’ve got to calm down a little bit myself,” Oliver 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.

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.

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.

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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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