Hurricane Beryl kills 4, leaves 3 million homes, businesses without power in Texas

Houston was under a flash-flood warning for most of Monday morning (July 8) as heavy rain continued to soak the city. Photo: AP/PTI 

Hurricane Beryl kills 4, leaves 3 million homes, businesses without power in Texas

Beryl had already cut a deadly path through Mexico and the Caribbean before sweeping ashore as a category 1 hurricane in Texas, then later weakening to a tropical storm

At least four people were killed and nearly three million homes and businesses were left without power as powerful tropical storm Beryl, which brought damaging winds and floods, slammed into Texas early on Monday (July 8).

Beryl brought schools, businesses, offices, and financial institutions to a halt soon after it made landfall near Matagorda as a category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Centre said on Monday evening (July 8).

Beryl had already cut a deadly path through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean before making a turn, sweeping ashore as a category 1 hurricane in Texas early Monday (July 8), then later weakening to a tropical storm.

Flooding, rains, and tornadoes were possible across portions of eastern Texas, Western Louisiana, and Arkansas, the centre said.

Two people were killed after trees fell on homes, and a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department was killed when he was trapped in flood waters.

One more person was reported dead in a fire incident.

People asked to stay at home

Officials asked residents to stay home on Monday night (July 8) as floodwaters from Beryl began to recede, and crews started surveying the damage.

"Don’t let the clear skies fool you," Mayor John Whitmire said at a news conference.

“There were no immediate reports of widespread structural damages," he said. "We still have dangerous circumstances."

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo offered a similar message: “We're not out of the woods yet... Let’s just wait until tomorrow. Doing a damage assessment on your own property is one thing, but driving around unnecessarily - we really ask that you avoid it.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is leading the state while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is out of the country, said it will be a “multiple-day process to get power restored” to the about 2.7 million customers across Texas experiencing outages.

Patrick said CenterPoint officials told him they were sending in 11,500 people to help with restoration efforts.

The workers are coming both from out of state and from unaffected counties in Texas, Patrick said during a late Monday afternoon storm briefing in Austin.

Roads unsafe

High water, tree damage, and other debris are expected to make roadways unsafe for the next several days, according to officials with TxDOT's Houston district.

Several neighbourhoods in Fortbend County, the worst affected, saw debris from huge trees on intersections and roads, besides power outages and rising flood waters.

Other neighbourhoods, such as Katy, Cinco Ranch, Cross Creek and Fulshear, have been without power since early Monday morning (July 8).

Traffic is off the roads or very sporadic, as very few traffic signals are operational, but all others are down.

Not much structural damage to buildings

Storm damage has largely been limited to downed branches, broken fences, and uprooted trees.

"There isn't much structural damage, just broken branches and stuff," said Texas Highway Patrol Officer Corey Robinson, who has been on duty since 6 am on Monday (July 8).

"We've got more patrol officers coming in from other cities."

School closures will stretch into Tuesday (July 9) for many of southeast Texas' K-12 districts and higher education institutions. Though schools reported minimal damage, no electricity following the storm is a matter of concern.

Beryl, after weakening into a tropical storm, was far less powerful than the Category-5 behemoth that tore a deadly path of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean last weekend.

Residents struggle without power

Residents without power were doing their best.

“We haven't really slept,” said Eva Costancio as she gazed at a large tree that had fallen across electric lines in her neighbourhood in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg. Costancio, 67, said she had been without power for about four hours on Monday and worried that food in her refrigerator would be spoiled.

“We are struggling to have food and losing that food would be difficult,” she said.

15 high-water rescues by first responders

High waters quickly closed streets. In flood-weary Houston, where previous storms had already washed out neighbourhoods, television stations on Monday (July 8) broadcast the dramatic rescue of a man who had climbed to the roof of his pickup truck after it got trapped in fast-flowing waters. Emergency crews used an extension ladder from a fire truck to drop him a life preserver and a tether before moving him to dry land.

Houston officials said they had performed at least 15 high-water rescues and more were ongoing.

“First responders are putting their lives at risk. That's what they're trained for. It's working,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said.

Flash-flood warning in Houston

Houston was under a flash-flood warning for most of the morning as heavy rain continued to soak the city. Flood warnings also were in effect across a wide stretch of the Texas coast, where a powerful storm surge pushed water ashore, and further inland as heavy rain continued to fall.

Rosenberg police also noted that one of their high-water vehicles was hit by a falling tree while returning from a rescue, and they urged people to stay off the roads. Video footage showed heavy street flooding in the barrier island city of Galveston.

Flooding could last for days

Patrick warned that flooding could last for days and the storm continues to dump rain onto already-saturated ground.

“This is not a one-day event,” he said.

Beryl and the widespread power outages were just the latest weather blows for Houston, where nearly 1 million people lost power when deadly storms ripped through the area in May, killed eight people and brought much of the city to a standstill.

Javier Mejia was one of about 20 people who gathered near the pickup truck rescue site in Houston to take pictures of other submerged vehicles.

“If you don't have a way through, you're going to get stuck like that,” Mejia said.

Having experienced previous storms in Houston, Mejia stocked up on food and water before Beryl hit, but forgot gas for his portable generator. He planned to spend the day looking for some.

“I don't want it to go bad. But if not, we can just fire up the grill,” Mejia said.

President Biden gets regular updates

President Joe Biden was getting regular updates on the storm after it made landfall, the White House said. The US Coast Guard and FEMA had prepared search and rescue teams, and FEMA collected bottled water, meals, tarps, and electric generators in case they are needed.

In the Texas coastal city of Freeport, Patti Richardson said she was riding out the storm in her 123-year-old house.

“We are sitting in the middle of it. It sounds like we are in a train station, it's that loud and has been about four hours. We're just hoping everything holds together,” Richardson said. “You can feel the house shaking. ... It's freaky.”

More than 1,000 flights cancelled at Houston’s airports

More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled at Houston's two airports, according to tracking data from FlightAware.

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. The storm ripped off doors, windows, and roofs with devastating winds and storm surge fuelled by the Atlantic's record warmth.

Three times during its one week of life, Beryl has gained 56 kph in wind speed in 24 hours or less, the official weather service definition of rapid intensification.

Beryl's explosive growth into an unprecedented early whopper of a storm indicates the hot water of the Atlantic and Caribbean and what the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the rest of the storm season, experts said.

Heavy rains expected in Louisiana

In Louisiana, heavy bands of rain are expected all day Monday (July 8) and “the risk is going to be for that heavy rainfall and potential for flash flooding,” National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones said in a Monday morning Facebook Live briefing.

Meteorologists in Louisiana are watching for lingering rainbands, which could drop copious amounts of rain wherever they materialise, as well as “quick, spin-up tornadoes,” said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“It's just a matter of exactly where that's going to be,” Jones said. “That's very difficult to predict more than maybe an hour or so in advance.”

Beryl weakened to a tropical storm

Beryl battered Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane last week, toppling trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Before hitting Mexico, Beryl wrought destruction in Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Three people were reported dead in Grenada, three in St Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela, and two in Jamaica.

(With agency inputs)

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