Millions still have no power days after Beryl struck Texas. Here's how it happened

DALLAS (AP) — It could take days or longer to fully restore power to the Houston area after Hurricane Beryl slammed into Texas, leaving millions of residents in the dark and without air conditioning in searing summer heat.

The slow pace of restoring power in America's fourth-largest city has put CenterPoint Energy, Houston's utility provider, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared before the storm and was working fast enough to get the lights back on.

Some Houston residents — who are all too familiar with enduring natural disasters — have also questioned why one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast appeared to wilt under Beryl and was unable to better withstand a Category 1 hurricane.

Here's what to know:

What damage did Beryl leave behind?

Beryl was no longer a Category 5 behemoth by the time it reached the U.S. before sunrise Monday. It made landfall as a weakened hurricane with sustained winds of 80 mph (128 kpm) after having already torn a deadly path of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean.

In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed onto power lines. By late Wednesday afternoon — over 60 hours after landfall — about 1.3 million homes and businesses were still without power, according to CenterPoint Energy. The company also said it had restored electricity to over 1 million customers.

Typically sweltering summer heat along the Texas coast has added to the urgency of restoring power. Temperatures on Wednesday were back above 90 degrees (above 32.2 Celsius), prompting the city to open cooling centers for residents without air conditioning.

What's being done to restore power?

CenterPoint Energy has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it had brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston since landfall to expedite power restoration.

Under sometimes sharp questioning Wednesday from Houston city councilmembers about the utility's handling of the storm, Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said it wouldn't have been safe to pre-position outside crews to “ride out” the storm.

He said the extensive damage to trees and power poles has hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

"That’s where all the time comes in to do the restoration work,” he said.

Rural communities in Beryl's path are also struggling to get power restored quickly. In coastal Matagorda County, where Beryl made landfall, officials said it may take up to two weeks to get the electricity back on for around 2,500 customers in the hard-hit community of Sargent, where homes were destroyed and badly damaged.

What other storms have hit Houston?

Beryl is just the latest natural disaster to wreak havoc on the power grid in the Houston area. In May, a powerful storm that ripped through the area with high winds left nearly 1 million people without power.

Houston was also hit hard in 2021 when Texas' power grid failed during a deadly winter storm that brought plunging temperatures, snow and ice. Millions of Texans lost power during that storm and were left to ride it out in frigid homes, or flee.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island as a Category 2 storm with 110-mph (177-kph) sustained winds, bringing flooding and wind damage to the Houston area. In the aftermath, Houston created a task force to investigate how the power was knocked out for more than 2 million people and took 19 days to restore.

One key recommendation was for CenterPoint Energy to install an “intelligent grid” system that would automatically reroute power to unaffected lines during an outage. A document on the utility’s website noted that 996 of the devices had been installed as of 2019, which would have covered less than half of the grid at the time. It was not immediately clear if more progress had been made, and the company did not immediately respond to requests for further comment Wednesday.

Where is Texas' governor?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been the face of the state's response while Gov. Greg Abbott is on an economic development visit to Asia, where he's traveling to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Abbott left Texas on Friday with a delegation that included other lawmakers, state officials and civic leaders. On Tuesday, Abbott posted on social media that he has remained in contact with emergency management officials and Patrick, who is the acting governor while Abbott is traveling.

“We’ll remain engaged until every Texan recovers,” he wrote.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was criticized in 2021 for traveling to Cancun while his state suffered through a deadly freeze. This week, Cruz has traveled along the coast visiting hard-hit communities alongside state officials. On Tuesday, Cruz said he was sleeping on a friend’s couch after his own home in Houston lost power.


Associated Press/Report for America writer Nadia Lathan contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.

07/11/2024 00:18 -0400

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