UNITED STATES NEWS

Power restored to most hit by deadly Houston storm with full service expected by Wednesday

May 19, 2024, 8:10 AM | Updated: 8:18 pm

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston area residents affected by deadly storms last week received some good news as officials said power was restored Sunday to a majority of the hundreds of thousands who had been left in the dark and without air conditioning during hot and humid weather.

The widespread destruction of Thursday’s storms left at least seven dead and brought much of Houston to a standstill. Thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds tore through the city, reducing businesses and other structures to piles of debris, uprooting trees and shattering glass from downtown skyscrapers.

A tornado also touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress.

By Sunday evening, 88% of customers in the Houston area had their power restored, said Paul Lock, a spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy.

“We expect everyone to be back on by end of business Wednesday,” Lock said.

More than 240,000 homes and businesses in Texas remained without electricity Sunday evening, mostly in the Houston area. More than 1,780 customers remained without power in Louisiana, which also was hit by strong winds and a suspected tornado.

CenterPoint Energy said 2,000 employees and more than 5,000 contractors were working in the Houston area to restore power.

“We understand the higher temperatures we are experiencing across Houston and surrounding communities make getting the lights and air conditioning back on even more important,” Lynnae Wilson, CenterPoint’s senior vice president of electric business, said in a statement.

At one of five cooling centers for people still without power in their homes, residents took shelter from the heat at a community center in the Cloverleaf neighborhood and wondered when their power would come back. At least 15 community centers were set to serve as cooling centers in the Houston area on Monday.

Carolina Sierra and her 6-year-old son, Derek, enjoyed the air conditioning for a couple of hours Sunday. She said they have been without electricity since the storm hit Thursday, and their home has been stifling.

Derek passed the time coloring a picture of a dragon while his mother charged her cellphone and a portable lamp they planned to use Sunday night if the power was still not restored. Sierra said she gives her son multiple baths to try to keep him cool but he tosses and turns at night and struggles to sleep.

“We are desperate,” Sierra said. “We hardly sleep at night because of the heat.”

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia stood outside the center Sunday, helping load water and ice onto vehicles while offering words of encouragement to residents still waiting for power to be restored. Nearly 500 vehicles stood in line at the center on Sunday to get water and ice.

“We are seeing a bit of the recovery come through,” Garcia said. “But we can’t see enough of it fast enough.”

Disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and loans from the Small Business Administration were on the way, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the county where Houston is located. The federal assistance, which can help pay for temporary housing and repairs, will help residents affected by last week’s storms as well as by flooding from heavy rainfall in late April and early May in parts of Houston, Harris County and several counties north of Houston.

Mayor John Whitmire said a six-block area in downtown Houston would be closed Monday to allow crews to continue repairs after various high-rise buildings had their windows blown out.

Residents broke into cheers as lights and air conditioning kicked on at the eight-story Houston Heights Tower, a senior housing facility, Sunday morning. The nearly 200 residents had been living on emergency power since Thursday evening, with generators providing enough electricity to run just one of the building’s elevators and a handful of fans in the community room, leaving apartments in darkness.

Volunteers and city workers had been ensuring residents received a steady supply of water, food and essentials like toilet paper.

“It just goes to show you how people come together,” resident Joseph Torregrossa said, choking back tears.

The National Weather Service said in a post on the social platform X that residents should expect “sunny, hot and increasingly humid days” in the Houston area. Highs of about 90 degrees (32 Celsius) were expected this week, with heat indexes likely approaching 102 degrees (39 Celsius) by midweek.

With the temperature reaching 91 degrees (33 Celsius) Sunday afternoon, Lisa Reed sat in a folding chair outside her home in the Cloverleaf neighborhood because she was still without electricity. A volunteer crew of AFL-CIO apprentices who had reached out to Garcia’s precinct office had just cut up a large tree in her front yard that had come crashing down on two vehicles in her driveway and stacked the wood neatly in two large piles.

Reed said no home on her street, where branches and other debris were piled along the sidewalk, escaped damage from last week’s storms.

“It’s nothing I can do,” said Reed, a fifth grade teacher. “Take it all in stride. I’m a firm believer that God will work it all out.”

Houston area school districts canceled classes for more than 400,000 students Friday. The Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest, said 215 of its 274 campuses would be open Monday. Two other large school districts in the the Houston area, Cypress-Fairbanks and Spring Branch, planned to be closed.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Vancleave contributed to this report.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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Power restored to most hit by deadly Houston storm with full service expected by Wednesday