'It Was Fierce. It Was Intense. It Was Quick.'

Severe thunderstorms rip through Houston, killing at least 4; some could be without power for weeks
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2024 8:30 AM CDT
Officials: Houstonians Could Be Without Power for Weeks
Tree service crews climb atop an SUV to cut apart a tree that fell on it at an apartment complex in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday in Houston.   (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via 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 110mph touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress in Harris County, per the AP. 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 harm's way," Whitmire said at a presser.

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'd heard "horror stories of just terror and powerlessness" as the storm came through. The weather service also reported straight-line winds of up to 100mph in downtown Houston and the suburbs of Baytown and Galena Park. 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 to 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." At least two of the deaths were caused by falling trees, while another happened when a crane blew over in strong winds, officials 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. More here.

(More Houston stories.)

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