Beryl updates: At least nine dead; power outages could persist for days (2024)

Power restoration could take days and summer temperatures are rising

Millions of Texans are heading into a third summer day without power after Hurricane Beryl wreaked havoc through several counties — including the state’s most populous one — and temperatures rose dangerously into the 90s. The heat index is projected to push past 100 degrees in some areas, compounding the risk for an already battered and worn-out area.

Power companies have deployed thousands of workers to restore power while state and local officials navigate residents’ frustrations at what’s becoming routine in Texas: massive power outages after winter storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes or hurricanes.

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As of 6:22 p.m. Tuesday, 1.9 million electricity customers concentrated in the southeastern corner of the state that bore the brunt of Beryl’s fierce winds still didn’t have electricity. Power companies and elected officials said it could be days before everyone has electricity again, meaning people without air conditioning would have to figure out how to cope with the heat.

“The power system is a life saving critical infrastructure — it’s the difference between life and death,” said Costa Samaras, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “The era of nobody could have foreseen these conditions is over.”

Utility officials and state leaders have said it will likely take days to get everyone’s electricity back on — and temperatures are projected to rise steadily over the next week, National Weather Service Meteorologist Ryan Knapp said.

Temperatures in the 80s and 90s can create unsafe conditions for high-risk individuals, especially in a home with no power, and finding ways to keep cool will be paramount, he said.

“The upper 80s can obviously heat the inside of the home pretty quickly,” Knapp said.

— Pooja Salhotra, Jess Huff, Emily Foxhall and Kayla Gao

At least nine people died as Beryl tore through Texas

Hurricane Beryl, which brought fierce winds and heavy rains to a large portion of southeastern Texas, has killed at least nine people, according to state and local authorities.

In Harris County, two people waiting out the storm in their homes were killed in separate instances when trees fell on their residences. An Atascocita Fire Department spokesperson said that in the first instance, two people were in a residence when a tree fell, killing one and injuring the other. The second instance saw a 74-year-old grandmother die after a tree fell on her bedroom, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced another person, a city of Houston employee, died from drowning in a flooded underpass on July 8. Acting Houston Police Department Chief Larry Satterwhite identified the man in a social media post as 54-year-old HPD information security officer Russell Richardson.

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Harris County also reported two deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning during Beryl, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said in a July 9 news conference. Kidd said that during the power outages, people run generators in unsafe places — like in a garage or near windows — allowing carbon monoxide to pool indoors. This can lead to asphyxiation.

In Montgomery County, two died inside a tent in a wooded area, according to a news release from the county’s emergency management office. No additional details surrounding their death were available. A third person, a man in his 40s, died in Montgomery County after a tree fell on him while he was on his tractor, the news release said.

In Galveston County, John Florence, an investigator with the county's Medical Examiner confirmed that 71 year-old Judith Greet died at Crystal Beach, a community in the Bolivar Peninsula. Greet was on oxygen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease that blocks airflow and makes it difficult to breathe. When the hurricane knocked out power in her RV home, Greet’s oxygen machine ran out of battery and she died.

The Houston Chronicle reported that a tenth person died in a house fire caused by lightning. Houston fire officials told The Texas Tribune that the cause is under investigation.

— Pooja Salhotra, Stephen Simpson, Dante Motley and Alejandra Martinez

Federal disaster declaration approved, Patrick says

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said President Joe Biden approved a Federal Emergency Disaster Declaration to aid Texans in the recovery from Hurricane Beryl. Following a phone call with Biden Tuesday, Patrick stated that he requested FEMA assistance to cover costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

“We are appreciative that the federal government will step in and they will pick up most of the cost as we go through recovery of the storm,” Patrick said at a Tuesday press briefing.

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Once the declaration is finalized and issued, the state’s homeowners and business will be able to access loans and grants to help with Beryl-related recovery costs. FEMA’s public assistance program is divided into categories. Part A covers the costs of debris removal, while part B covers emergency protective measures like medical care, transportation and evacuation. Patrick said the federal government would be covering “most of the cost” associated with storm recovery.

The declaration includes 121 impacted counties, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said. Those counties include Brazoria, Galveston and Harris.

Kidd urged residents to adhere to local government regulations if they start doing their own debris cleanup.

Debris will need to be separated into three categories. Vegetative debris includes leaves and plants; construction and demolition debris includes building materials; appliances and white goods are another category.

“Please don’t put it all into one pile,” Kidd said. “It only slows the recovery process.”

On Monday, Biden spoke with Houston Mayor John Whitmire and said his administration is committed to supporting Texas, a White House spokesperson said.

“The U.S. Coast Guard and FEMA are on the ground and stand ready to support local response efforts,” the spokesperson said. “They will remain with the people of Texas every step of the way.”

–Alejandra Martinez and Pooja Salhotra

Texans begin to assess damage and plan clean-up efforts after bruising storm

Hurricane Beryl plowed through the Houston region Monday and, according to local meteorologist Matt Lanza, keeping up hurricane strength until it got halfway across town. Only in the afternoon would the winds die down completely, allowing people to emerge to follow a routine many know well: assess the damage, check on others, clean up and wait for the power to return.

The storm jolted people awake as its winds roared, blowing at 90 miles per hour, pushing tree branches at windows and ripping shingles from rooftops. Ten to 15 inches of rain pounded homes, according to Houston Mayor John Whitmire.

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The wind sounded to 31-year-old Elizabeth Alvarez in Houston like someone screaming. The mother of six woke up at 4 a.m., scared, and didn’t go back to sleep. She thought her window might break. She lost power and — hour by hour — more Houstonians did too, their air conditioning and refrigerated food going along with it.

Later, Alvarez would drag her pet birds in their cages onto her porch to feel the cooler air, while neighbors grilled corn and pork and others kicked a soccer ball. She would clutch a handheld, battery-powered fan, that was turned off to save for when she needed it.

Across the region, fences toppled. Awnings ripped from restaurants. Signs soared away from businesses. Traffic lights twisted askew. A local television station lost power and went off the air. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on The Weather Channel, “Really, Houston is getting the brunt of the wind and the rain.”

The pops of transformers echoed. Entire trees crashed down.

And the damage pushed on from there, as Beryl uprooted trees and downed power lines into southeast Texas. In Liberty, a beloved pecan tree outside the historic courthouse was uprooted early on Monday, according to Bluebonnet News. The tree served as a meeting place for generations of residents.

“The rebuild is going to be significant. There was real damage. But the good news is for Houston, this ain’t our first rodeo,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said at a Monday evening press conference.

— Emily Foxhall

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from generators during power outages

When electrical power is knocked out after a hurricane, carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly used gas-powered generators is especially dangerous. The odorless, colorless gas is called an “invisible killer.” Early symptoms can include headache, dizziness, weakness and nausea, similar to the flu. To stay safe, experts recommend never connecting a generator directly to your home’s wiring, ensuring it's properly grounded, and always operate it outdoors away from windows and vents.

— Alejandra Martinez

What should I do after a hurricane hits?

Stay away from flood waters and damaged power lines. Don’t enter damaged buildings. Take photos and document damages to your home or property. Residents are also encouraged to document their storm damages and losses through a state-run online survey to help state officials understand the extent of the damages.

Organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and local volunteer organizations can help you find food, shelter and supplies, as well as even assist you with clean-up efforts.

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How to navigate FEMA during this year’s hurricane season

Government and community resources may be available to help with recovery. Disaster declarations from the governor and president may free up federal funds for recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. People cannot receive disaster aid and insurance assistance for the same damages, so insured Texans should file claims through their existing policies before applying for FEMA assistance.

— Maria Probert Hermosillo and Pooja Salhotra

Tornadoes pop up in East Texas after Beryl downgraded to a Tropical Storm

After downing trees and power lines across the Greater Houston area, Hurricane Beryl has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, meaning wind speeds have lowered below 75 miles per hour.

Maximum sustained winds have decreased to about 60 miles per hour, a 1 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Beryl is headed northeastward at about 14 miles per hour and is expected to increase in speed as it continues to move through East Texas, where some local officials asked residents to shelter in place.

The National Weather Service out of Shreveport is tracking three confirmed tornadoes on radar, two in Texas and the third in Louisiana. The first is south of Joaquin, which is north of Lufkin and near the Louisiana border, the second is north of Timpson, which is also near the border.

Forecasters urged Texans to use caution amid downed power lines and warned that improper generator use can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

On the Texas coastline, a storm surge warning is still in effect north of San Luis Pass to Sabine Pass, an area that includes Galveston Bay. The tropical storm warning was discontinued from Port O’Conner to San Luis Pass.

The Coastal Bend, including areas like Corpus Christi, was spared from the brunt of the storm.

— Pooja Salhotra and Jess Huff

High winds persist into East Texas, prompting requests for residents to shelter in place

High winds have made their way north from the Texas coast into East Texas and counties have begun to ask residents to shelter in place as a way to keep emergency vehicles off the roads as well.

The storm kept up its momentum as a Category 1 hurricane all the way to Interstate 10, surprising meteorologist Matt Lanza at Space City Weather.

“The widespread wind gusts of 75 to 85 mph so far inland was really unnerving,” he wrote in an updated blog post.

Residents of San Jacinto, Liberty, Hardin and Tyler counties have been encouraged to shelter in place, especially to stay off the roads in an effort to also keep emergency vehicles off the road.

News outlets and emergency management teams throughout the region have reported downed power lines and trees throughout the region.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Monday for counties between Montgomery and Texarkana counties, as well as Northwest and North Central Louisiana and Southern Arkansas. A wind advisory is in effect until Tuesday morning.

— Jess Huff

Storm passes over Lake Livingston Dam, which was inundated with rain in April

In Polk County, which is home to the Lake Livingston Dam, the storm began to peak around 11 a.m. with the worst of it located over the dam, according to Polk County Emergency Management. High winds are still top of mind, even as Beryl has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

The dam, which recently reported potential failures, was releasing 21,175 cubic feet of water per second as of 11 a.m. and the lake level is at 130.93 feet above sea level.

This is significantly less than the several hundred thousand cubic feet of water released in April, when storms required several hundred thousand cubic feet of water per second to be released for multiple days in a row.

The Trinity River Authority, in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Authority, initiated a temporary flight restriction over the dam as the authority also began construction to mitigate potential failures early Monday.

— Jess Huff

Houston officials ask residents to remain off roads as damage assessment begins

Beryl updates: At least nine dead; power outages could persist for days (6)

Downed tree limbs and power lines, flooded streets, and power outages have Houston officials pleading with residents to stay home.

Houston mayor John Whitmire held a news conference Monday detailing the dire situation the city finds itself in as it took the brunt of Hurricane Beryl.

“We are dealing with a very serious amount of water. Around 10 inches of rain across the city and 90-mile-per-hour winds and hurricane conditions,” Whitmire said. “Please, Houstonians, shelter in place. We are in emergency and rescue mode.”

Whitmire said over 700,000 Houston electricity customers are currently without power, and the region’s two major airports are not open. However, city officials should better understand the situation now that the storm is moving away.

“We are experiencing the dirty side of a dirty storm,” Whitmire said.

The storm's sustained winds were still at 70 miles per hour as it moved from the Gulf Coast into the Houston area. The National Hurricane Center said that up to 10 inches of rain could fall in some places — and some isolated areas of the state may receive 15 inches. Some areas of Houston have already received nearly 10 inches of rainfall, according to data from the Harris County Flood Control District. On Monday morning, local officials in the Houston area said the storm had downed trees and caused street flooding. At least two people died when trees fell onto their residences.

In Rosenberg, a city 35 miles southwest of Houston, a downed tree hit a high water rescue vehicle returning from a rescue, police said on X. Officials there also urged residents to stay off roadways.

Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena underscored the strain on resources due to the high demand for high-water rescues and live wire calls. These are currently the primary service requests, consuming a significant portion of their resources, and they have already helped eight people in high-water rescues.

“Earlier today, we saw a video of a high-water rescue, and you can see how resource-intensive those call types are. We can’t keep using those resources. Please be cautious and heed the warnings,” Pena said.

— Stephen Simpson, Pooja Salhotra and Emily Foxhall

Refineries begin reporting storm-related air pollution

Some refineries along the Texas coast have shut down due to Hurricane Beryl and are self-reporting instances of “unintentional” emissions.

In one instance, Freeport LNG, a large natural gas terminal on the coast of Brazoria County, reported releases of over 8,000 pounds of unplanned air pollution on Sunday. Pollutants included ethylene, a chemical with a faint sweet and musky odor, that can cause headache, dizziness, fatigue, and lightheadedness if people are exposed to it in large amounts overtime.

In their report to the state, the company wrote the facility was proactively shutting down before the hurricane winds caused power outages.

“[The shutdown] resulted in a subsequent unavoidable venting,” the report said.

Flaring, a process for burning unwanted gas to relieve pressure or clear pipes, usually happens before or during extreme weather events, said Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas.

The Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, along the Houston Ship Channel, tweeted the facility was flaring Monday morning due to a brief power disruption during the storm. No report has been submitted to the state yet.

Metzger said Beryl’s pollution events are low compared to Hurricane Harvey’s 8.3 million pounds of air pollution reported to the state, but suspects more facilities will submit reports after the storm’s passing.

“I was surprised looking at the pollution reports that there has been relatively little pollution reported,” Metzger said. “That’s either good news because the storm had less of an impact [on refineries] or facilities [operators] have learned their lesson.”

— Alejandra Martinez

Beryl makes landfall in Texas as Category 1 hurricane

Beryl updates: At least nine dead; power outages could persist for days (7)

Hurricane Beryl made landfall near Matagorda around 4 a.m. Monday as a Category 1 Hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm strengthened through Sunday evening and had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour when it came ashore. A 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center warned about life-threatening storm surge and inland flooding Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of Texans are without power, including many in coastline counties such as Brazoria and Matagorda, according to PowerOutage.us. The full scope of the storm's damage is not yet clear — and it could cause more Monday as it moves northeast through the state.

The hurricane center said the coast was experiencing life-threatening storm surge. It also warned of flash floods throughout the southeastern portion of the state as the storm continues moving inland, bringing five to 10 inches of rain to some areas — or up to 15 inches in some isolated places.

Category 1 storms primarily damage unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees. They can also do extensive damage to electricity lines and cause power outages that last several days.

— Pooja Salhotra

Disclosure: CenterPoint Energy has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Beryl updates: At least nine dead; power outages could persist for days (2024)

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