• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Storms Batter Houston, Leaving at Least 4 Dead and Hundreds of Thousands Without Power

Storms Batter Houston, Leaving at Least 4 Dead and Hundreds of Thousands Without Power

Four people were killed and nearly a million customers along the Gulf Coast were without power early Friday after intense thunderstorms swept through Texas the night before, bringing heavy rain, destructive winds and dangerous flooding to portions of the state that had already been inundated this month.

The storm blew out windows, caved in the wall of a building and downed power lines across Houston as powerful winds tore through the downtown area. Of the people who died, at least two were killed by falling trees and one was killed in an accident involving a crane that was toppled over by strong winds, according to Samuel Peña, the city’s fire chief.

Much of Houston was battered by winds of speeds up to 100 miles per hour, rivaling speeds seen during Hurricane Ike, with “some twisters mixed in,” the city’s mayor, John Whitmire, said at the briefing. It will take at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours in parts of the city to restore power, he said.

The public school district in Houston said all schools would be closed Friday. Emergency responders warned residents to stay home, saying many roads were still impassable and most traffic lights were out throughout the city. Fire fighters still had to remove a live power line from a major highway.

Ahead of the storm, the National Weather Service in Houston had warned people to take cover and brace for winds up to 80 m.p.h.

Forecasters had also issued a tornado warning for the area as well as a special marine warning for the area including the Galveston Bay.

As of 7 a.m. local time, about 780,000 customers were without power across Texas, most of them in the Houston area, according to Poweroutage.us. CenterPoint Energy, the provider in southeast Texas, said it had received reports of downed power lines and advised customers that its call centers were overwhelmed. Another 145,000 had lost power in Louisiana.

Forecasters warned the weekend will also bring “sweltering heat” to southern Texas, as officials race to fix power outages. Temperatures are expected to hit the lower 80s in the area on Friday, but those without power, and air conditioning, will experience 90 degree temperatures through the weekend and into next week.

Local news broadcasts reported considerable damage in downtown Houston, with the force of the winds shattering the windows of high rise towers, twisting metal sign posts and felling trees on the street. The storm tore through the walls of at least one building, leaving piles of bricks behind, and falling debris also crushed cars. It left main streets blanketed in crushed glass and debris.

Forecasters issued a string of flash flood warnings across the state earlier in the afternoon, warning Texans in those areas to seek higher ground and avoid driving through flooded roadways.

One video posted in the evening showed strong winds whipping large panel structures at Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros were playing the Oakland Athletics.

In a forecast on Friday, the Weather Prediction Center said that showers and thunderstorms were expected across a broad part of the eastern United States. Moderate to heavy rain would likely focus in an area over the Lower Great Lakes, the Appalachians and to the Gulf Coast.

An especially heavy downpour could impact parts of Southern Mississippi and Alabama, it said, and there was still a risk of excessive rain over the already saturated central Gulf Coast states. The risk of severe thunderstorms was slight, but could affect about seven million people living there, the service said.

Flash flood warnings were in place on Friday morning for parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, as a severe thunderstorm brought hail the size of golf balls to the city of San Patricio, Texas. The Weather Service in Corpus Christi warned residents to move inside because of “continuous cloud to ground lightning.”

Lina Hidalgo, the top executive of Harris County, which includes Houston, said earlier on social media that rain was expected to move through Harris County “fairly quickly” on Thursday night.

“But the worst case scenario is that heavy rain could hit the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, impacting residents and eventually causing more flooding as we get into the weekend,” she said.

Portions of Harris County, including areas near the San Jacinto River, had already been hit with major flooding earlier this month. The flooding prompted Ms. Hidalgo to issue a disaster declaration that would bring federal aid to Harris County residents who were affected by the storms.

Isabella Kwai contributed reporting.

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