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7 dead as storms slam Houston yet again; hundreds of thousands still without power

Deadly Houston storms knock out power
Deadly Houston thunderstorms knock out power, damage downtown buildings 03:42

At least seven people were killed as thunderstorms blew out windows in high-rise buildings, downed trees and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the Houston area Thursday as Southeast Texas got pummeled for the second time this month. Power outages could last weeks in parts of Houston, an official warned Friday. 

Rising temperatures and a smog warning could complicate clean-up efforts and put residents without power at risk, officials warned.

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

Houston storm damage
A man walks through fallen bricks from a damaged building in the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. Thunderstorms pummeled southeastern Texas on Thursday, killing at least four people, blowing out windows in high-rise buildings and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses in the Houston area. David J. Phillip / AP

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.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire told reporters in a news briefing Thursday night that four people had killed due to the storms in the city. At least two of those fatalities were caused by fallen trees, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters. Another was caused by a "crane that was blown over by the wind."   

On Friday, the sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, reported another three weather-related deaths. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said on social media that a 57-year-old man died while trying to move a downed electrical pole, an 85-year-old woman died when a lightning strike sparked a fire in her trailer, and a 60-year-old man was found dead after he "went out to his truck to plug his oxygen tank due to loss of power."

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

Conejo Malo, a club in downtown Houston, Texas on May 17, 2024, was severely damaged during the previous night's storm. Getty Images

At one point, more than one million customers were without power in Texas Thursday night, according to utility tracker That number was down to about 451,000 customers who were still without power in Texas as of Saturday afternoon.

Of that, about 431,000 customers were without electricity in Harris County, which is home to more than 4.7 million people.

Utility provider 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.

Noelle Delgado's heart sank as she pulled up Thursday night to Houston Pets Alive, the animal rescue organization where she is executive director. The dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — were uninjured, but the awning had been ripped off, the sign was mangled and water was leaking inside. With power expected to be out for some time and temperatures forecast to climb into the 90s on Saturday, she hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

Downtown Houston Weather
 Debris fills the feeder road near Interstate 10 and Interstate 45 near downtown Houston after severe storms passed through the area. Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspaper via Getty images

"I could definitely tell that this storm was a little different," she said. "It felt terrifying."

Heavy storms slammed the region during the first week of May, leading to numerous high-water rescues, including some from the rooftops of flooded homes.

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. 

President Biden Friday night issued a separate major disaster declaration that frees up federal assistance for seven Southeast Texas counties for the "severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes, and flooding" that hit the region beginning April 26. 

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