Race to restore power to 1.5 million after Hurricane Beryl as dangerous heatwave continues

HOUSTON — More than 1.5 million customers in Texas remained without power Wednesday afternoon, leaving many without air conditioning during a dangerous heat wave 48 hours after Hurricane Beryl made landfall on the Gulf Coast.

And the Midwest and Northeast are bracing for heavy rain, flooding, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes as Beryl moves further north.

The National Weather Service office in Houston reported: “With power outages still occurring in southeast Texas, the lack of air conditioning will increase the risk of heat-related illness as temperatures soar to over 95 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The heat index, a measure of how warm it feels and takes into account humidity, will hit 106 on Wednesday, the report said. People are urged to keep an eye on family members and pets and limit outdoor activities. Cooling centers have opened across Houston.

Lakewood Church staff distribute water and operate a cooling station in Houston on Tuesday.Eric Gay / AP

Melissa Hunziker of Houston can barely handle the heat without power: “Our house is actually pretty cool right now, but we know that will change soon.”

“We have a portable fan that runs on batteries. That helped last night, but we probably won’t stay another night,” she said.

It’s not just the power shortage that’s been difficult to resolve, but also the loss of mobile connectivity, making emergency information difficult to access, Hunziker said.

Kassie Rieger and Keaton Cravens were in Houston to help those in need. “We just hope that people stay safe and do what they can to help their neighbors,” Rieger told NBC News.

CenterPoint Energy, the main utility for the greater Houston area, said in a statement Wednesday that it has restored power to 914,000 customers since Beryl arrived, about 40% of the total number of customers affected.

More than half of Harris County’s 2.1 million utility customers were without power as of Tuesday afternoon, the company’s online tracker showed. Key elements of CenterPoint’s energy system remained intact, the statement said, including transmission towers and substations.

Energy workers repair power lines after Hurricane Beryl on Tuesday in Galveston, Texas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Houston.Danielle Villasana / The Washington Post via Getty Images

“We have made significant progress and exceeded customer recovery efforts following Hurricane Ike, but much important work remains, particularly in the hardest hit areas where the work will be more complex and time-consuming,” said Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of the company’s Electric Business division.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire told a news conference Tuesday that traffic lights were down across the city and urged people to stay home as much as possible after dark.

“Right behind public safety is restoring city and county services with the highest priority for power and energy. We are doing everything we can to make sure your electricity is restored,” he said.

Houston Police Chief Larry J. Satterwhite told the same news conference that officers had received more than 100 reports of suspected carbon monoxide leaks, and that they were dealing with downed gas and power lines. He warned that some trees and power lines that have not yet fallen could do so in the coming days.

Houston is battling dangerous heat as more than 2 million homes and businesses in the region remain without power.Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Beryl is now a post-tropical cyclone and continues to move northward through the Midwest. As a result, flood warnings and advisories have been issued for parts of Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Michigan, as well as the interior Northeast, including central and northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Beryl’s maximum sustained winds have dropped to 30 mph (48 kph), but rain amounts of at least 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) are still expected. There is also a chance of tornadoes in New York City on Wednesday.

About 2 million people are at risk of severe thunderstorms in northern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey on Wednesday.

At least 10 people have died in the United States since Beryl made landfall on Monday, many of them when trees fell on their homes amid widespread flooding and disruption.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at a news conference Wednesday that most of the deaths in Texas occurred in the Greater Houston area and Harris County, including some drownings and carbon monoxide poisonings.

The city of Houston reported a shortage of ambulances, Nim Kidd, the head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at the news conference. The agency sent 25 extra ambulances to help with 911 calls and sent extra paramedics to hospital emergency rooms overnight.

The Houston Airport System also said Wednesday it was dealing with runway repairs and limited staffing as a result of Beryl, amid a busy summer travel season.

A large tree breaks off after Hurricane Beryl in Houston. Reginald Mathalone / NurPhoto via AP

“Our hearts grieve for all Texans affected by Hurricane Beryl, including our fellow Texans who tragically lost their lives or were injured,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is on a diplomatic trip, said in a statement Tuesday. “We also remain in contact with electric providers regarding the need to quickly restore power,” he added.

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster for the federal government, which will cover up to 75% of the costs of cleaning up debris and other emergency measures.

Social media footage from Houston shows homes destroyed by falling trees.

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