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Some Houston-area power outages could last weeks after deadly storms cause widespread damage

Some Houston-area power outages could last weeks after deadly storms cause widespread damage
1 month 1 week 23 hours ago Friday, May 17 2024 May 17, 2024 May 17, 2024 12:25 PM May 17, 2024 in News - AP Texas Headlines
Source: APnews.com
Rapper Trae tha Truth, in yellow, cuts fallen tree limbs on top of a car in the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm that passed through downtown Houston on May 16, 2024. Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

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.

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. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said four, and possibly five, people were killed after the storms swept through the county, which includes Houston, on Thursday.

"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.

"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 widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill. Trees, debris and shattered glass littered the streets. 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, and he warned would-be looters that "police are out in force, including 50 state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting."

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

The problems extended to the city's suburbs, with emergency officials in neighboring Montgomery County describing the damage to transmission lines as "catastrophic."

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.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Evans said the agency had not yet confirmed any tornadoes touching down in and around Houston and Harris County.

"The majority of this damage is straight line winds," which he said could have reached up to 100 mph (160 kph).

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.

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.

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Baumann reported from Bellingham, Washington, and Weber from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Sarah Brumfield in Silver City, Maryland, and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this story.

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