Frustration grows as Houston's power outage goes into 4th sweltering day

HOUSTON — More than a million electrical customers in Houston remained without power amid sweltering weather on Thursday and most won't have their power restored until the end of this weekend, a full week after Hurricane Beryl swept in and damaged the energy grid, officials said.

Many Houston residents and elected leaders said they were losing their patience with the main utility company in the area, CenterPoint Energy, accusing the company of being slow in restoring electricity.

"I'm not in the business of grading. I'm in the business of saying, 'Let's get it done.' We demand that they do better," Houston Mayor John Whitmire said of CenterPoint Energy during a news conference Wednesday.

CenterPoint Energy said Wednesday night that of the almost 2.3 million customers who lost power when Beryl came ashore early Monday as a Category 1 hurricane, about a million have had their power restored.

But the utility giant said at least 750,000 customers won't have their electricity back on until the end of this week, including 350,000 who will be without power until Sunday evening, a full week after Hurricane Beryl hit the Gulf Coast of Texas.

"We are fully focused on achieving our next restoration goals, while continuing to address the issues in the hardest-hit areas where there is major damage to our equipment and infrastructure," CenterPoint Energy Lynnae Wilson, the company's senior vice president, said in a statement Wednesday night.

As a CenterPoint Energy official warned residents on Wednesday that "it will take days" to restore power to everyone, Whitmire questioned why the Houston Astro's game was able to be played under the lights of Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night as more than a million residents suffered under hot, humid conditions without power.

"We have to get our priorities right, folks," Whitmire said.

Beryl made landfall in Texas as a Category 1 hurricane early Monday, knocking down power lines, toppling trees onto homes, flooding streets, killing at least six people and leaving Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city with more than 2.3 million residents, under miserable conditions, officials said.

On top of the damage exacted by Beryl, a heat advisory remains in effect in the Houston area, where the temperature is forecast to reach a high of 90 degrees on Thursday with a 40% chance of rain. The National Weather Service said the heat index, which factors in low humidity, will make the Houston area feel more like 106 degrees.

A spokesperson for the Houston Fire Department said Thursday that the agency has received 262 carbon monoxide poisoning calls since Beryl made landfall and urged residents to operate portable generators outside their homes.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Whitmire and acting police Chief Larry Satterwhite announced that more than 100 law enforcement officers from agencies across Texas are going to Houston to relieve the city's police officers, who have been working 12-hour shifts every day since the storm hit. The additional officers will be assigned to patrol neighborhoods left in the dark by the power outage or assist with traffic control at intersections where traffic lights are out, the officials said.

This announcement was made in the shadow of the death of Deputy Fernando Esqueda who was killed last night by a suspect who is still on the run.

"I know that we're all tired and frustrated. We're hot. We are struggling to sleep and cool off and we absolutely have storm fatigue," Judge Lina Hidalgo, the executive of Harris County, said at the start of a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Assessing the post-Beryl situation, Hidalgo reported long lines at the few gas stations that remain open, hospitals and senior living facilities without power, food dwindling at grocery stores, widespread damage caused by Beryl's 97 mph wind gusts and 13 inches of rain in some areas.

"The main point here [is] I really want to encourage people not to panic. We can get through this," said Hidalgo, adding that her home was without power.

But Paul Locke, CenterPoint Energy's director of local government affairs, could only offer cold comfort to customers of the utility giant, saying, "It's going to be days" before power is restored to everyone.

"I can't give you a timeline, but it's not going to be tomorrow," Locke said.

About 12,000 linemen have been deployed to the field as CenterPoint continued Wednesday to assess damage to its electrical grid, the energy provider said.

When Beryl blew in on Monday, about 80% of those the utility serves lost power.

Drawing comparisons to a severe storm in May that knocked out power to about 1 million CenterPoint Energy customers, Locke said it took 4 1/2 days to restore power to everyone in the wake of that storm.

In its statement Wednesday night, CenterPoint Energy said crews are "nearing completion on damage assessment, with more than 8,500 miles of its circuits walked and thousands of miles flown across the Greater Houston area."

"Crews have identified extensive tree damage across the company's system. Trees across the Greater Houston area were particularly vulnerable due to three unusual years of weather, including significant freezes, drought and heavy rain this past spring. Downed trees and a significant amount of tree debris had a major impact on CenterPoint's distribution system of poles and wires," the company said.

Locke assured customers that the utility company was working as fast as possible to restore power, adding many members of the repair crews were without power, too.

"Nobody wants to sleep in a house that's 85 degrees," Locke said.

Compounding the problem, the Red Cross has been unable to set up shelters in Houston because of the lack of electricity, Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo also noted an emergency that occurred at the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston at the onset of the hurricane, saying the facility, which she described as "one of the pillars" of the city's health care system, lost power and could not get its back-up generator to work for several hours.

"It got so warm in the hospital that people's lives were at risk," Hidalgo said. "They had to shut down all operating rooms except for two, which meant even a lot of emergency operations were delayed."

Hidalgo also said the storm prompted the closure of the Port of Houston, where much of the fuel for gas stations comes in. She said gas stations are relying on trucks to bring in fuel.

"So the ones that don't have power, they can't supply the fuel and the ones that do have fuel are seeing limitations because everyone is going there," Hidalgo said.

She said that while some grocery stores reported running out of perishable items, "We're not in a situation where we are going to run out of food or where it is just impossible for fuel to get to Harris County in the event of a serious emergency."

Houston resident Joanne Posey was among numerous people without power on Wednesday picking up emergency supplies and water at a cooling station established at the LeRoy Crump Stadium in Houston.

"It's hard, but you just keep the faith with sweat going down your face," Posey told ABC Houston station KTRK, as she waited in her car to pick up supplies.

Susan Balderas of Houston was among those waiting in line at a gas station, telling KTRK that it was the second place she went to fill up her tank.

"I've taken my lunchtime today to find gas because in the area I live, a lot of power is still out," Balderas said. "Gas stations are out. Long lines everywhere."

President Joe Biden granted a federal emergency disaster declaration on Tuesday for 121 Texas counties affected by Beryl, which will speed up federal assistance to the area.

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is serving as governor in the absence of Gov. Greg Abbott, who is on an economic development mission in Asia. Patrick said he spoke to Biden on Tuesday and made the formal request for federal assistance after he toured the damaged areas.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Biden alleged that state officials in Texas slowed down the federal efforts by not putting in a formal request with the administration sooner.

"I don't have any authority to do that without a specific request from the governor," Biden told the Chronicle.

Patrick, a Republican, later accused Biden of making the storm recovery "a political issue."

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