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Houston Bakes in Post-Beryl Blackout as Biden Declares Emergency

(Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Houston is baking under dangerous heat as more than 2 million homes and businesses in the area remain without power after Hurricane Beryl and signs of fuel shortages begin to emerge. 

President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster for almost half of the counties in Texas, which will help cover some costs from the storm. The region’s heat index values — a measure of how hot it feels when humidity is factored in — are forecast to be as high as 106F (41C), the US National Weather Service said, warning of the possibility of illness under the extreme conditions. Actual temperatures will exceed 90F. 

While those temperatures aren’t unusual for Houston at this time of year, scorching weather and humidity combined with the lack of power will make for brutal conditions, as people won’t be able to turn on air conditioners for a break from the heat. The sweltering conditions and significant power outages are both expected to last for days. 

More than 2.1 million homes and businesses are still without power in eastern Texas, mostly concentrated in the Houston area, according to PowerOutage.us. Over 75% of those are customers of CenterPoint Energy Inc., the Houston area’s main electric utility. Internet provider Lumen Technologies Inc. said power outages are prompting partial service disruptions for Houston-area clients. Mobile phone service was also beginning to falter in and around the city on Tuesday.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Acting Texas Governor Dan Patrick — who is filling in while Governor Greg Abbott is on an economic development trip to Asia — said he’s talked to CenterPoint several times and that the company is working to restore power safely and quickly.

Based on current progress with damage assessment and initial restoration, CenterPoint expects to have power restored to 1 million impacted customers by the end of day on July 10, the company said in a statement late Monday. 

Beryl left the Houston metro area — home to roughly 7 million — a morass of flooded streets, downed trees, darkened traffic lights and power lines lying on the ground. At least three deaths were blamed on the storm. Beryl, a Category 1 hurricane when it struck Texas early Monday, already had killed 11 people in a week-long rampage across the Caribbean.

Dozens of cars were lined up at a west Houston Shell gasoline station Tuesday as frustrated residents sought fuel a day after Beryl made landfall.

They were lucky the station had power to pump the fuel — some drivers had already been to multiple sites that were still closed. For Houston residents who’ve been through this before, the outages are becoming a regular, and infuriating, occurrence.

“I’m just tired of the power grid basically. We’ve been through too many storms for them not to know how to handle this,” said Chrishique Harvey, 31. “Every hard wind that blows, there’s an outage.” 

A spokesperson for grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the grid is running normally and any outages are local in nature. Ercot doesn’t own power plants or transmission lines.

Keion Logan, 24, a recent transplant from Chicago who was waiting in line for gas at the west Houston station, said he’d never been through a hurricane before — and it was trying his resilience. 

The “electricity is off, running out of gas, my phone is dead,” Logan said. “I’m trying to survive, trying not to give in.”

The Port of Houston closed Monday and will remain so Tuesday. Maersk, in a separate advisory, said some of its local trucking operations facilities are without power but it expects to resume operations once the Houston terminal gates open. BNSF Railway said its Pearland Intermodal Facility in Houston will be closed until it is safe to resume operations.

Beryl, now a post-tropical cyclone, is sweeping across the South, with heavy rainfall expected in the Mississippi Valley. Tornadoes are possible across Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Almost 30,000 homes and businesses are without power Tuesday in Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. 

Scorching weather is also set to bake western states this week, raising fire risks from Canada to Mexico. A million people are under an excessive heat warning in the US West, according to Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center. 

Las Vegas on Sunday hit an all-time high temperature of 120F (49C). Palm Springs and Redding in California have also set records. The high in Sacramento may reach 110F on Thursday, while Furnace Creek — the gateway to Death Valley — is poised to hit 128F. 

--With assistance from Tope Alake, Millie Munshi, Naureen S. Malik, Julie Fine and Joe Carroll.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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