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

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

Tropical Storm Beryl ripped a path of destruction through the heart of Houston on Monday, transforming roads into rivers, killing at least four people and knocking out power for more than two million customers across Texas.

The storm, which made landfall early Monday as a Category 1 hurricane, weakened as it passed over the city and continued its swirling march north.

But its relatively modest official strength undersold its power, local authorities said. As it churned through Houston, officials warned people to stay inside and away from windows, “as though there was a tornado coming your way,” Lina Hidalgo, the top official in Harris County, which includes Houston, cautioned residents.

The center passed just to the west of the city, meaning Houston received some of the worst of the storm as it spun counterclockwise.

By Monday afternoon, officials were beginning to assess the destruction as residents emerged to find a landscape of downed power lines, damaged homes, fallen trees and rippling water along the streets. The city’s airports remained closed into the afternoon because of lingering strong winds.

Houstonians have long been accustomed to power outages and strong weather. But Beryl, which began as an unusually powerful storm in the Caribbean, offered an ill omen, striking early in a hurricane season that has been predicted to be unusually active.

“The wind gusts were way stronger than I expected for a Cat 1,” said Julie Kickham, who rode out the storm in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston. “This makes me nervous for the rest of hurricane season.”

It was the second time in less than two months that residents found their city battered by winds and plunged into darkness. Even before the hurricane season had started, an unexpectedly strong storm struck Houston and its surrounding suburbs in May, killing at least seven people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power for days.

Far more were without power on Monday: About one in five electricity customers in Texas had lost power by midday, with most of the more than 2.7 million outages at one utility, CenterPoint Energy, in the Houston area.

“I do not have power,” Mayor John Whitmire said during a news conference. “We’re all in this together.”

Officials warned that it could take days for many in the city to get their power and air-conditioning back, with temperatures forecast to climb into the 90s on Tuesday. In areas where residents could afford them, the sounds of backup generators could be heard rumbling in the streets.

Two people were killed inside their homes, officials said, crushed under the weight of trees that had been knocked over in the winds. One was a man at home with his family in the Atascocita area north of Houston; the other, a 74-year-old woman, was killed in a northwestern neighborhood near Interstate 45, officials said.

A third victim, a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department, drowned when his car became submerged in high water, Mayor Whitmire said. The employee had been exiting an interstate and went into a flooded underpass. Mr. Whitmire said the man had tried to call other members of the department for help but they were not able to reach him in time.

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

As with previous strong storms that have hit the city, Beryl transformed Houston’s urban landscape.

Trees blocked roadways. Toads, whose mating call is usually heard when the weather cools at night, sang in the daylight. Sections of highways filled with water that was whipped into white caps, looking like rough seas in the middle of the city.

A rescue team using a crane pulled a man from a pickup truck that had become surrounded by rough and rising waters along Highway 288. At least eight people had been rescued from high water as of the middle of the day, said Thomas Hardin, an assistant police chief.

Several of Houston’s bayous, which help to drain water from the city during storms, were filled to their banks, or in some cases overtopped. The county’s flood warning system showed several places where the bayous were over capacity, including one near downtown.

The fuel giant Marathon Petroleum said on Monday that its Galveston Bay Refinery had briefly lost power during the storm, and that it was burning off excess gases as a safety measure.

But unlike during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which stalled over the city and rained for days, Beryl moved through Houston relatively quickly, allowing the floodwaters to begin slowly receding by afternoon with no apparent large-scale industrial damage.

By later in the day, some coastal areas were beginning to emerge from the storm and return to their ordinary rhythms. In the city of Galveston, along the Gulf of Mexico, several people gathered in Robert’s Lafitte bar, two blocks from the beach. The owner, Scott Butler, said the bar had no electricity but plenty to drink.

The storm was expected to chart a path through East Texas toward Shreveport, La., and Texarkana, Ark.

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Penn, Steve Kenny, Edgar Sandoval and Rick Rojas.

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