Hundreds of thousands are still without power in the Houston area. Here's how it happened

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Houston area likely won’t have power restored until next week, as the city swelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl.

The storm slammed into Texas on Monday, knocking out power to nearly 2.7 million homes and businesses and leaving huge swaths of the region in the dark and without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Although repairs have restored power to nearly 1.4 million customers, the scale of the damage and slow pace of recovery has put CenterPoint Energy, which provides electricity to the nation's fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm and is doing enough now to make things right.

Some frustrated residents have also questioned why a part of the country that is all too familiar with major storms has been hobbled by a Category 1 hurricane, which is the weakest kind. But a storm's wind speed, alone, doesn't determine how dangerous it can be.

Here's what to know:

What damage did Beryl leave behind?

Beryl was no longer a Category 5 behemoth by the time it reached the U.S. before sunrise Monday. It made landfall as a weakened hurricane with sustained winds of 80 mph (128 kpm) after having already torn a deadly path of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean.

In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines. By Friday morning, CenterPoint said it had restored power to almost 1.4 million customers. But nearly 900,000 were still without power, and the company predicted that about half a million would still be in the dark by Monday. Most of those customers were expected to be in the areas where Beryl came ashore.

The staggering summer heat along the Texas coast has added to the urgency of restoring power and the city opened cooling centers for residents with air conditioning.

The area got a brief break from temperatures that reached above 90 degrees (above 32.2 Celsius) with a new round of storms Thursday and Friday. But the rain was also expected to hamper crews' efforts to repair power lines.

What's being done to restore power?

CenterPoint Energy has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it had brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston since landfall to expedite power restoration.

The utility said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before it made landfall. Since then, workers have had to assess damage to more than 8,600 miles of power lines.

Under sometimes sharp questioning Wednesday from Houston city councilmembers about the utility's handling of the storm, Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said it wouldn't have been safe to pre-position outside crews to “ride out” the storm.

He said the extensive damage to trees and power poles has hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

Rural communities in Beryl's path have also struggled to restore power. In coastal Matagorda County, where Beryl made landfall, officials said it may take up to two weeks to get the electricity back on for around 2,500 customers in the hard-hit community of Sargent, where homes were destroyed and badly damaged.

What other storms have hit Houston?

Beryl is just the latest natural disaster to wreak havoc on the power grid in the Houston area. In May, a powerful storm that ripped through the area with high winds left nearly 1 million people without power.

Houston was also hit hard in 2021 when Texas' power grid failed during a deadly winter storm that brought plunging temperatures, snow and ice. Millions of Texans lost power during that storm and were left to ride it out in frigid homes, or flee.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island as a Category 2 storm with 110-mph (177-kph) sustained winds, bringing flooding and wind damage to the Houston area. In the aftermath, Houston created a task force to investigate how the power was knocked out for more than 2 million people and took 19 days to restore.

Jason Ryan, executive vice president of CenterPoint, said this week that the company’s infrastructure is “a little ways away” from being able to withstand storms like Beryl.

Following Ike, the company began installing an “intelligent grid” system that would automatically reroute power to unaffected lines during an outage. Ryan said the utility received millions of dollars in federal funding to implement the technology years ago, but that it's still a work in progress as part of a larger 10-year resiliency plan.

Where is Texas' governor?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been the face of the state's response while Gov. Greg Abbott is on an economic development visit to Asia, where he's traveling to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Abbott left Texas on July 5 with a delegation that included other lawmakers, state officials and civic leaders. On Tuesday, Abbott posted on social media that he has remained in contact with emergency management officials and Patrick, who is the acting governor while Abbott is traveling.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was criticized in 2021 for traveling to Cancun while his state suffered through a deadly freeze. This week, Cruz has traveled along the coast visiting hard-hit communities alongside state officials. On Tuesday, Cruz said he was sleeping on a friend's couch after his own home in Houston lost power.


Associated Press/Report for America reporter Nadia Lathan contributed to this report.

Comments on this article





mobile apps

Everything you love about and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!