Beryl leaves millions of Texans without power as dangerous heat descends on the region

Restoring power to millions of Texans slammed by the deadly and destructive storm Beryl could take days or even weeks, posing a dangerous scenario for residents without air conditioning as triple-digit heat index temperatures hit the state.

Beryl slammed into southern Texas as a Category 1 hurricane Monday, knocking out power to more than 2.5 million homes and leaving at least eight people dead in Texas and Louisiana.

More than 1.7 million customers, mostly in Galveston up through Houston, are still without power Tuesday night, according to At least 34 utilities are experiencing outages.

The storm unleashed flooding rains and winds that transformed roads into rushing rivers, ripped through power lines and tossed trees onto homes, roads and cars.

President Biden granted a federal emergency disaster declaration for parts of Texas due to Beryl’s destruction, acting Texas Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday.

“FEMA’s assistance with these costs will expedite the recovery process and help ensure the safety of Texans impacted by Hurricane Beryl,” Patrick said.

The emergency declaration will grant 75% reimbursement for debris cleanup for all 121 impacted Texas counties, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief W. Nim Kidd said at a Tuesday news conference.

What’s left of Beryl is hurtling into the Midwest. Despite having lost strength and its core, it still threatens to trigger more flooding and tornadoes along its path.

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As difficult recovery and cleanup efforts are underway in southeast Texas, including the Houston area, extreme heat is bearing down on the region Tuesday and will continue for much of the week, creating hazardous conditions for those working outdoors, the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, children and those without adequate cooling.

The heat index in Houston passed 100 degrees on Tuesday. The heat index measures how the body feels under both heat and humidity. Both Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport reported a heat index of 103 degrees by early Tuesday afternoon. Air temperatures in the region will climb into the 90s through at least early next week.

When a person is unable to cool their body down amid prolonged heat, they are at risk for damage to the brain and other vital organs, as well as other heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and stroke.

Heat is the deadliest form of extreme weather in the US, killing more than twice as many people each year as hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

With some residents opting for generators in the wake of outages, Kidd noted at least two carbon monoxide poisoning deaths have been reported in Harris County, home to Houston.

“If you have a generator that you’re running, please make sure it is far away from the area that you are living and sleeping,” Kidd explained, adding such deaths are preventable.

But restoring power to hard-hit communities will be a multi-day undertaking, according to Thomas Gleeson, the chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. And in the coastal city of Galveston, city officials have estimated it could be as many as two weeks before electricity is restored.

Utility company says damage was more severe than expected

Texas utility CenterPoint Energy has borne the brunt of the outages, and though the company had braced for Beryl’s impact, it said the damage was more severe than it had expected. As of Tuesday night, CenterPoint still had more than 1.3 million customers without service.

“The storm veered off the originally expected course and more heavily impacted the company’s customers, systems and infrastructure than previously anticipated, resulting in outages to more than 2.26 million customers at its peak,” the utility said. That amounts to 80% of CenterPoint’s Houston region customers, company representative Paul Lock said during a Tuesday evening news conference.

Earlier Tuesday, Patrick said he has repeatedly urged CenterPoint Energy to “work as quickly as they can” to restore power.

“It’s tough to be in the heat. It’s tough now to be able to refrigerate anything and tough not being able to go out and get food,” he added.

The utility had said they expected to restore power to 1 million customers by Wednesday night. CenterPoint also hopes to complete full damage assessments by the end of the Tuesday, company spokesperson Logan Anderson told CNN Tuesday afternoon.

In the evening news conference, Lock said he couldn’t give a timeline for power restoration, “but it is not going to be tomorrow.” He said the utility will provide a system-wide restoration timeline after the damage assessments are complete.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire, whose home was also without power Monday, said CenterPoint and the city are “fully aware” of how pressing electricity restoration is.

“We’re going to take care of every community. No community is favored over another community. Every Houstonian is important to us. We’ll get your power on as quickly as possible,” he said.

In Katy, Texas, just west of Houston, resident Lizzette Varela said her home lost power Monday morning and hasn’t regained it since. Her family is trying to find access to lodging, internet and food storage on a day-to-day basis, she told CNN.

“There is no clear word from CenterPoint. They expect that by Wednesday there will be 1 million more people with electricity, but there’s 2 million people without power. How do you know if you’re part of the 50% with power? It’s like a game,” she said.

Mayor Gregg Bisso of Surfside Beach, Texas – located 60 miles south of Houston – said he is “mad as hell” at CenterPoint, as 90% of the Gulf Coast destination is without power.

“We are the first to get hit—and hit the hardest—but because we are over the bridge, we are the last ones to get service back,” Bisso said.

Bisso said most residents thankfully heeded a voluntary evacuation order, as Beryl brought sustained winds of well-over 90 mph that damaged countless homes – with some missing whole roofs.

Houston residents working through aftermath

The Houston Zoo is also working to clean up damage and flooding from Beryl, Jackie Wallace, assistant vice president of communications and public affairs, told CNN Tuesday.

All the animals are safe and fared well throughout the hurricane and power outage, Wallace said, as the zoo used generators until power was restored late Tuesday morning.

A team of staff spent Sunday and Monday overnight at the zoo to ensure the safety of the animals and take care of any emergency issues on the grounds. The animals spent the nights, as usual, safely in their barns, Wallace said.

In recent years, the zoo has undergone extensive upgrades with hurricanes and freezes in mind, which included an office garage being built on campus for staff to ride out storms.

The zoo will remain closed until Thursday. Some other businesses are staying open, however.

For Crystal Petty, the manager of a Baskin-Robbins in southwestern Houston, business is busier than usual as people clamor for relief from the high temperatures and humidity.

“I have a phone call coming in about every 30 minutes with someone asking if we’re open or not,” Petty told CNN.

Petty’s store regained power at 7 a.m. Tuesday with most of their products still good to sell – save the ice cream cake display, which had melted from being in the front window. Scoops were being served a cool four hours later.

From her correspondence with other local stores, Petty believes her Baskin-Robbins might be the only one in the city still with power.

Beryl’s path through the US

At its peak, Beryl was a record-shattering Category 5 storm but has since been reduced to a far less powerful system with winds of 30 mph. Still, what’s left of Beryl will produce flooding and tornadoes in the US as it moves inland through mid-week.

Beryl became the first storm in the Atlantic hurricane season to make landfall in the US after tearing a devastating path through the Caribbean, where it caused at least nine other deaths. The storm marks the start to a hurricane season experts say will be far from normal, as fossil fuel pollution contributes to abnormally warm water and rapidly intensifying storms.

The center of the storm will continue through Illinois by the end of Tuesday. It is then expected to blow into Indiana on Wednesday morning and race through Ohio and Michigan and into Canada by the end of the week.

The threat of tornadoes linked to Beryl increased Tuesday, prompting the Storm Prediction Center to upgrade the risk of severe thunderstorms to a level 3 of 5 for western Kentucky and southern Indiana.

Parts of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys are under a level 2 of 5 severe thunderstorm threat, primarily for tornadoes associated with the storms, according to the center. Fourteen tornadoes from Beryl were reported Monday in Texas, Louisiana and southern Arkansas.

About 23.4 million people are under flood watches Tuesday. Flash flood warnings were issued along the storm’s path Tuesday morning.

Heat sprawls across the West

Heat alerts have been issued Tuesday for about half of the US population, spanning both coasts, but the West coast being hit particularly hard.

An oppressive heat wave is blanketing the West and will hover over the region for several more days, likely bringing high temperatures between 10 to 30 degrees above average to some areas.

Human-caused climate change is driving far more frequent and intense heat waves across the globe, exposing communities to increasingly dangerous temperatures.

Excessive heat warnings, watches and heat advisories are in effect for nearly all of Washington state, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and southwest Arizona. Parts of western Nevada and northeastern California won’t see high temperatures below 100 degrees until next weekend, the National Weather Service office in Reno said.

In Oregon, four people died of suspected heat-related illnesses over the weekend, and another suspected heat-related death was reported Monday, according to news releases from Multnomah County. A motorcyclist also died from heat exposure in California’s Death Valley on Saturday, when the high temperature was 128 degrees. In Arizona, a 50-year-old hiker died amid searing temperatures Sunday on the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail, according to the National Park Service.

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Robert Shackelford, Jamiel Lynch, Fabiana Chaparro, Joe Sutton, Taylor Ward, Elise Hammond, Kara Mihm, Sarah Dewberry, Chris Boyette and Mary Gilbert contributed to this report.

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