Most in Houston area are getting power back after storm, but some may have to wait until the weekend

HOUSTON– Power was expected to be restored by late Wednesday to nearly all Houston-area homes and businesses left in the dark by last week’s deadly storm, officials said.

But as many as 20,000 customers may have to wait until the weekend before their lights come back on.

Power will be fully restored to about 98% of residents and businesses by the end of Wednesday, Brad Tutunjian, vice president of regulatory policy at CenterPoint Energy, told Houston City Council members at their weekly meeting.

At the height of the outage, approximately 922,000 customers were without service. On Wednesday evening it was only about 42,000.

“We are working around the clock to get them delivered as quickly and safely as possible. I would also like to acknowledge the patience of our customers,” Tutunjian said.

The May 16 storm left at least eight people dead, caused widespread destruction and brought much of Houston to a standstill. Thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds swept through the city, turning businesses and other structures into piles of rubble, uprooting trees and shattering glass from downtown skyscrapers. The storm spawned two tornadoes: one near Cypress, a northwest Houston suburb, and the other in Waller County, northwest of Houston.

The National Weather Service determined the storm was a weather event known as a derecho, meteorologist Jeff Evans said. A derecho is a widespread, long-lived storm that brings a series of fast-moving showers or thunderstorms, according to the weather service.

The derecho had hurricane-force winds across a 5-mile to 8-mile swath through the Houston area, with some gusts up to 100 miles per hour, Evans said. The straight-line winds of a derecho can be more damaging than a tornado because they can last for several minutes compared to the instant hit of a tornado, Evans said.

Tutunjian said the 2% of customers — about 20,000 — likely to still be without power after Wednesday live in areas with “significant damage” to equipment.

Others need to have transformers or fuses repaired in their area and that could take some time, Tutunjian said. And other customers will have to repair damaged electrical equipment they are responsible for at home before they can get power restored.

“The 98 (percent) is impressive, unless you’re one of the 20,000,” Mayor John Whitmire said, adding that overall, CenterPoint has done a good job restoring power.

Tutunjian said he expects crews to continue working through the weekend.

The Houston area was expected to experience potentially dangerous heat this weekend, with temperatures and humidity levels higher than normal for May, according to the National Weather Service.

The deadly storm occurred as the Houston area and several Texas counties to the north were still recovering from flooding caused by heavy rains in late April and early May.

Houston City Council Member Abbie Kamin said last week’s storm should spark discussion about strengthening power lines and other infrastructure in Houston.

The city of more than 2 million residents is one of the most flood-prone metro areas in the country and has a long history of devastating weather events, including hurricanes.

Tutunjian said CenterPoint has been working to make its system more resilient, but more research is needed.

“We have some tough questions we need to talk about. And again, we’re not even in hurricane season yet and we still have thousands of customers without power right now,” Kamin said.

The hurricane season starts on June 1.


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