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Beryl Rips Through Houston, Killing 4 and Knocking Out Power for Millions


Tropical Storm Beryl blew a path of destruction through the heart of Houston on Monday, turning streets into rivers, killing at least four people and knocking out power to more than two million customers in Texas.

The storm, which hit as a Category 1 hurricane on Monday, weakened as it passed over the city and continued to move north.

But local officials said its relatively modest official strength underestimates its power. As the storm passed through Houston, officials warned people to stay indoors and away from windows, “as if a tornado is coming toward you,” Lina Hidalgo, the top official in Harris County, which includes Houston, cautioned residents.

Its center passed west of the city, meaning Houston was spared the worst effects due to the storm's rotation in the opposite direction.

By Monday afternoon, officials were beginning to assess the devastation, as residents saw downed power lines, damaged homes, downed trees and flooded streets. The city's airport remained closed until the afternoon because of strong winds.

Houstonians have long been accustomed to power outages and bad weather. But Beryl, which began as an unusually powerful hurricane in the Caribbean, was a bad sign, as it arrived early in a hurricane season that was predicted to be unusually active.

“The wind gusts were a lot stronger than I expected for a Cat 1,” said Julie Kickham, a hurricane forecaster in the Montrose area of ​​Houston. “It makes me nervous for the rest of hurricane season.”

It was the second time in less than two months that residents found their city devastated by winds and plunged into darkness. Even before hurricane season began, Houston and its surrounding suburbs were pummeled by unexpectedly strong storms in May, killing at least seven people and leaving thousands without power for days.

A lot more people were without power on Monday: About one in five electricity customers in Texas lost power by noon, and most of the more than 2.7 million outages were at a single power utility, CenterPoint Energy, in the Houston area.

“I don't have the power,” Mayor John Whitmire said during a news conference. “We're all in this together.”

Officials have warned that it could take days for many people in the city to get their electricity and air-conditioning back, with temperatures forecast to reach 90 degrees on Tuesday. In areas where people can afford it, the sounds of backup generators could be heard rumbling in the streets.

Two people were killed inside their homes, which collapsed under the weight of trees brought down by the winds. One man was at home with his family in the Atascocita area north of Houston; the other, a 74-year-old woman, was killed in the northwest area near Interstate 45, officials said.

Mayor Whitmire said the third victim was a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department who drowned when his car was submerged in water. The employee was exiting an interstate highway and fell into a flooded underpass. Mr. Whitmire said the man tried to call other members of the department for help, but they were unable to reach him in time.

A fourth death, caused by a house fire on Monday morning, was also linked to the storm.

Like previous powerful hurricanes that struck the city, Beryl altered Houston's urban landscape.

Trees blocked roads. Toads, whose mating calls are usually heard at night when the weather cools, were singing in daylight. Parts of highways were flooded with water that turned into whitecaps, looking like a rough sea in the middle of the city.

Rescuers used a crane to pull a man out of a pickup truck that was surrounded by rough and rising waters on Highway 288. Assistant Police Chief Thomas Hardin said at least eight people had been rescued from the swift waters by midday.

Many of Houston's bayous, which help drain water away from the city during storms, are filled to their banks, or in some cases overflowing. Flood Warning System Water levels were above capacity at several locations, including one near downtown.

Fuel giant Marathon Petroleum said on monday Its Galveston Bay refinery briefly lost power during the storm, and was burning excess gas as a safety measure.

But unlike Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which lingered over the city and dumped rain for days, Hurricane Beryl passed through Houston relatively quickly, causing floodwaters to slowly recede by midday and not causing widespread industrial damage.

By day's end, some coastal areas were beginning to recover from the storm and return to their normal rhythms. In the city of Galveston along the Gulf of Mexico, many people gathered at Robert's Lafitte bar two blocks from the beach. The owner, Scott Butler, said the bar had no power but there was plenty to drink.

The storm was expected to move across eastern Texas toward Shreveport, La., and Texarkana, Arkansas.

Contributed reporting Evan Penn, Steve Kenny, Edgar Sandoval And Rick Rojas,

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