Weather

Severe Weather Destruction Could Keep Parts of The Region Without Power For Weeks [UPDATED]

Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed recovery efforts.
Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed recovery efforts. Screenshot
Update 8:52 p.m.:

Friday evening, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that President Joe Biden declared Thursday’s severe weather, coupled with the recent weeks’ flood, a major disaster.

The Biden administration’s declaration will allow FEMA to approve federal assistance for homeowners, other residents and local businesses affected by the straight-line winds, tornadoes and recent flooding events.

The death toll from Thursday’s severe weather climbed to seven on Friday evening, and the National Weather Service’s survey team confirmed a second EF-1 tornado touched down in Waller County. The other tornado, also an EF-1, occurred near Cypress.

Hidalgo took to X to share the news of the federal aid.
Hidalgo added that county and city officials would have additional information on the timeline for receiving federal assistance and how residents and businesses can apply on Saturday.

Original Story:

Officials from Harris County and Houston said clean-up after Thursday night’s inclement weather is in its initial stages, and recovery efforts could take up to weeks to complete at a press conference Friday morning.

“There’s a lot we know, and there’s a lot we don’t know,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “We are going to have to talk about this disaster  in weeks — not days.”

Hidalgo was joined by Houston Mayor John Whitmire, Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones, state representative Jolanda Jones (D-Houston) and other security and safety personnel.

According to Hidalgo, the roughly 740,000 residents without power on Friday morning could be without power for multiple weeks, particularly if they are tied to the transmission lines that went during Thursday night’s storm.

There is no expected timeline for restoring power to these customers, and a CenterPoint Energy representative notified the public during the press conference that its outage tracker is currently down.

Hidalgo signed a disaster declaration Friday morning. County, city and state officials requested that disaster relief for the recent weeks’ flooding and Thursday night’s storm be combined to qualify for assistance from the federal government.

Although the final number of fatalities and injuries are not known, Whitmire said a possible fifth weather-related fatality is currently under investigation. He advised residents to stay off the roads, noting that 2,500 traffic lights across Houston are not working.

Whitmire added that CenterPoint is sending 4,000 technicians to the region, and Austin Mayor Kirk Watson arranged for technicians to come out and assist with repairing the city’s downed traffic lights.

The Houston Police Department received backup on Thursday night from 50 Texas Department of Public Safety officers deployed to help patrol for potential burglaries and other criminal activity.

Whitmire also addressed reports circulating on social media that Houston is under a boil water notice, which he said were inaccurate. He added that the city would keep residents updated if the status of any of the water purification plants changed.

“Our water plants are functioning, they are on generators,” Whitmire said. “The East side [Water Purification Plant], which furnishes about 60 percent of our water, is functioning. The water is safe.”

The highest official wind speed recorded Thursday night was 78 mph. According to Jeff Evans, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, he expects to confirm wind speeds up to 100 mph as damage surveys are underway.

Evans said the NWS had not confirmed any tornadoes as of Friday morning, but radar video suggested two might have touched down in Northwest Harris County in the Bridgeland area and near Galena Park and Baytown, respectively. 

“The majority of this damage is straight-line winds,” Evans said. “It’s hard for people to comprehend that this was not a tornado, considering the damage we dealt with.”

To assist those affected by Thursday’s conditions, 15 of Harris County’s libraries opened at 9 a.m. on Friday and remain open until 6 p.m.

Hidalgo said these facilities will function as cooling centers, have programming for children and allow residents to use computers or charge their phones if needed. Once the locations are confirmed, they will be posted online at readyharris.org. Officials are working to keep the libraries open throughout the weekend.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.