Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (2024)

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HOUSTON (AP) — Power outages could last weeks in parts of Houston, an official warned Friday, after thunderstorms with hurricane-force winds tore through the city, knocking out electricity to nearly 1 million homes and businesses in the region, blowing out windows on downtown high rises and flipping vehicles.

The National Weather Service said it confirmed a tornado with peak winds of 110 mph (177 kph) touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress in Harris County.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said crews were still trying to determine the extent of the damage and the number of casualties from Thursday’s storms. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said four people, and possibly five, had died.

“It was fierce. It was intense. It was quick, and most Houstonians didn’t have time to place themselves out of harms way,” Whitmire said at a news conference.

With multiple transmission towers down, Hidalgo urged patience. Thousands of utility workers were headed to the area, where power had already been restored to roughly 200,000 customers. Another 100,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, down from a peak of 215,000.

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“We are going to have to talk about this disaster in weeks, not days,” Hidalgo said.

She said she had heard “horror stories of just terror and powerlessness” as the storm came through. The weather service also reported straight-line winds of up to 100 mph (161 kph) in downtown Houston and the suburbs of Baytown and Galena Park.

Noelle Delgado’s heart sank as she pulled up Thursday night to Houston Pets Alive, the animal rescue organization where she is executive director. The dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — were uninjured, but the awning had been ripped off, the sign was mangled and water was leaking inside. With power expected to be out for some time and temperatures forecast to climb into the 90s Saturday, she hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

“I could definitely tell that this storm was a little different,” she said. “It felt terrifying.”

Yesenia Guzmán, 52, worried whether she would get paid with the power still out at the restaurant where she works in the Houston suburb of Katy.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she said.

The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill. Trees, debris and shattered glass littered the streets. One building’s wall was ripped off.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes for more than 400,000 students and government offices were closed. City officials urged people avoid downtown and stay off roads, many of which were flooded or lined with downed power lines and malfunctioning traffic lights.

Whitmire said at least 2,500 traffic lights were out. He also warned would-be looters that “police are out in force, including 50 state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting.”

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (4)

At least two of the deaths were caused by falling trees and another happened when a crane blew over in strong winds, officials said.

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (5)

Whitmire’s office posted a photo Friday on the social platform X showing the mayor signing a disaster declaration, which paves the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance.

President Joe Biden later issued a disaster declaration for seven counties in Texas, including Harris, due to severe weather since April 26. His action makes federal funding available to people affected by the storms.

The problems from Thursday’s storms extended to the Houston suburbs, with emergency officials in neighboring Montgomery County describing the damage to transmission lines as “catastrophic.”

High-voltage transmission towers that were torn apart and downed power lines pose a twofold challenge for the utility company because the damage affected transmission and distribution systems, according to Alexandria von Meier, a power and energy expert who called that a rare thing.

“It’s more typical that the damage is just at the distribution system, which is, you know, just not as strong,” von Meier said, referring to power lines that tend to be more susceptible to wind damage.

How quickly repairs are made will depend on a variety of factors, including the time it takes to assess the damage, equipment replacement, roadwork access issues and workforce availability. Centerpoint Energy deployed 1,000 employees on Friday and had a pending request for 5,000 more line workers and vegetation professionals.

One silver lining, von Meier said, is that the damage was localized, unlike what happened in the 2021 statewide freeze, which could allow for other jurisdictions to send resources more readily. Although customers might want an aggressive repair timeline, she cautioned that it must proceed carefully and methodically.

“Because if you try to fix this kind of thing in a hurry and you try to restore power in a hurry, you might injure people. You would be putting the workers at risk. You could be putting other people at risk. You could be blowing up equipment that then is going to take longer to replace,” von Meier said.

The storms also weren’t over Friday. Gulf Coast states could experience scattered, severe thunderstorms with tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds. Heavy to excessive rainfall is possible for eastern Louisiana into central Alabama, the National Weather Service said. Flood watches and warnings remained Friday for Houston and areas to the east.

The Storm Prediction Center’s website showed a report of a tornado in Convent, Louisiana, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) from New Orleans, with multiple reports of trees and power poles down.

A suspected tornado hit the Romeville area of St. James Parish on Thursday night with some homes impacted and trees down, but no injuries or fatalities had been reported, parish officials said in a social media post on Friday morning.

There were wind gusts of 84 mph (135 kph) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and 82 mph (132 kph) at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, according to Tim Erickson, a meteorologist at the weather service’s office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (6)

The office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge issued a flash flood warning through Saturday.

Heavy storms slammed the Houston area during the first week of May, leading to numerous high-water rescues, including some from the rooftops of flooded homes.

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The story has been updated to correct that school districts across the Houston area canceled classes Friday, not just the Houston Independent School District, and also the spelling of Cypress.

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (7)

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (8)

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Associated Press reporters Jamie Stengle in Dallas and Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen contributed.

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4 (2024)

FAQs

Where did Houston's tornado hit today? ›

The Cypress tornado, with peak winds of 110 mph, cut a path only a 0.77 mile long and 100 yards wide. It touched down near the intersection of Tuckerton and Greenhouse roads, before tracking southeastward through the Highlands subdivision, the weather service said.

What type of storm causes the most damage? ›

Of all recorded weather disasters in U.S. history, tropical cyclones—known as hurricanes when occurring in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and Eastern North Pacific Oceans—have caused the most deaths and destruction.

Why do houses lose power during storms? ›

Utility poles, wires, transformers and other electrical equipment are easy targets for lightning strikes, causing severe damage and loss of power. Lightning also frequently strikes trees causing tree limbs or even large trees to fall onto utility lines.

Which of the following type of storm most likely causes the most damage? ›

Tornadoes are the most dangerous and damaging aspect of severe thunderstorms. Wind speeds of tornadoes can reach to near 300 mph and cause an average of 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries per year in the U.S. Most fatalities from tornadoes occur in mobile homes and in automobiles.

Has there ever been an F6? ›

In total, two tornadoes received the rating of F6, but both were later downgraded to F5. Based on aerial photographs of the damage it caused, Fujita assigned the strongest tornado of the 1974 Super Outbreak, which affected Xenia, Ohio, a preliminary rating of F6 intensity ± 1 scale.

What was the biggest tornado in Houston? ›

The most damaging tornado recorded in Harris County occurred around 8 a.m. Nov. 21, 1992. Not only was it the most damaging tornado in terms of property damage but it was the strongest tornado recorded in the region as an F4 tornado. It caused $250 million in property damage and injured 15 people.

What state has the most power outages? ›

The U.S. States with the Most and Least Power Outages

With the most annual power outages, Maine is surely left in the dark. The Pine Tree State tops the list with an average of 4.35 power outages every year, a stark increase above the national average of 1.62 per year.

What happens if your house is destroyed in a storm? ›

Contact your homeowner's insurance provider.

Save your receipts for any materials you use, and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursem*nt. Document your loss, and preserve damaged items until your adjuster has visited your home or your company advises that you may dispose of the items.

Why does only half of my house have power after a storm? ›

If you've lost power to half the power in your house, then it could only be one of two problems. You either have a loose connection on the utility side, or you have a bad main breaker. I always tell my customers to check the free option first.

What month has the most thunderstorms? ›

Long-term weather records show June and July are America's most active months for damaging thunderstorm winds, which sometimes include widespread, destructive damaging-wind events called derechos.

Can you hide in a closet during a tornado? ›

The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basem*nt. If there is no basem*nt, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet. For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench.

Is a hurricane worse than a tornado? ›

Statistically, hurricanes are more destructive than tornadoes. A single tornado may have stronger, faster winds than a hurricane, but a hurricane's larger size and longer life give it the potential to be more disastrous.

What category tornado hit Houston? ›

The NWS team also confirmed it was an EF-1 tornado near Cypress with peak winds of 110 mph. The length and width of the path are expected to be shared soon.

Where did the biggest tornado hit? ›

This article lists various tornado records. The most "extreme" tornado in recorded history was the Tri-State tornado, which spread through parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925.

What day was the tornado in Houston? ›

(FOX Weather)

Bus shuttles were providing emergency service, but officials warned that bus routes were encountering significant delays and detours due to damage around the city. Several windows were broken in downtown Houston high-rise buildings during severe weather on May 16, 2024.

Is Houston Texas part of Tornado Alley? ›

As a colloquial term there are no definitively set boundaries of Tornado Alley, but the area common to most definitions extends from Texas, through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio, and eastern portions of Colorado ...

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