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Widespread power outages from deadly Houston storm raise new risk: hot weather

Updated May 18, 2024 at 21:58 PM ET

HOUSTON — As the Houston area works to clean up and restore power to hundreds of thousands after deadly storms left at least seven people dead, it will do so amid a smog warning and scorching temperatures that could pose health risks.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard said on Saturday that highs of around 90 degrees (32.2 C) were expected through the start of the coming week, with heat indexes likely approaching 100 degrees (38 C) by midweek.

"We expect the impact of the heat to gradually increase ... we will start to see that heat risk increase Tuesday into Wednesday through Friday," Chenard said.

The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when humidity is combined with the air temperature, according to the weather service.

"Don't overdo yourself during the cleanup process," the weather service's Houston office said in a post on the social platform X.

In addition to the heat, the Houston area could face poor air quality during the weekend.

Heavy rainfall was possible in eastern Louisiana and central Alabama on Saturday, and parts of Louisiana were also at risk for flooding.

The Houston Health Department said it would distribute 400 free portable air conditioners to area seniors, people with disabilities and caregivers of disabled children to contend with the heat.

Five cooling centers also were opened — four in Houston and one in Kingwood.

Hundreds of thousands remain without power

The widespread destruction of Thursday's storms brought much of Houston to a standstill. Thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds tore through the city — decimating the facade of one brick building and leaving trees, debris and shattered glass on the streets. A tornado also touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress.

More than a half-million homes and businesses in Texas remained without electricity by midday Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. Another 21,000 customers were also without power in Louisiana, where strong winds and a suspected tornado hit.

CenterPoint Energy, which has deployed 1,000 employees to the area and is requesting 5,000 more, said power restoration could take several days or longer in some areas, and that customers need to ensure their homes can safely be reconnected.

"In addition to damaging CenterPoint Energy's electric infrastructure and equipment, severe weather may have caused damage to customer-owned equipment" such as the weatherhead, which is where power enters the home, the company said.

Customers must have repairs completed by a qualified electrician before service can be restored, CenterPoint added.

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

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.

The storm caught many off guard

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez reported late Friday that three people died during the storm, including an 85-year-old woman whose home caught fire after being struck by lightning and a 60-year-old man who had tried to use his vehicle to power his oxygen tank.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire previously said at least four other people were killed in the city when the storms swept through Harris County, which includes Houston.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes Friday for more than 400,000 students and government offices were closed.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles said Saturday that he hoped to reopen schools on Monday, but that is dependent upon the restoration of electricity in school buildings.

"If a school doesn't have power, it will remain closed," Miles told reporters during a tour of the heavily damaged Sinclair Elementary School.

Whitmire warned that police were out in force, including state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting. He said the speed and intensity of the storm caught many off guard.

Noelle Delgado, executive director of Houston Pets Alive, said she pulled up at the animal rescue on Thursday night and found the dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — uninjured, but the building's awning had been ripped off, the sign was mangled and water was leaking inside.

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."

State and federal recovery assistance is on the way

In light of the storm damage, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Whitmire both signed disaster declarations, paving the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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