Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo says it could take “weeks” for power to be restored in some parts of Houston following fierce storms with winds of up to 100 miles per hour

HOUSTON (AP) — Power outages could last weeks in parts of Houston, an official warned Friday, after thunderstorms with hurricane-force winds tore through the city, knocking out electricity to nearly 1 million homes and businesses in the region, blowing out windows on downtown high rises and flipping vehicles.

The National Weather Service said it confirmed a tornado with peak winds of 110 mph (177 kph) touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress in Harris County.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said crews were still trying to determine the extent of the damage and the number of casualties from Thursday's storms. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said four people, and possibly five, had died.

“It was fierce. It was intense. It was quick, and most Houstonians didn’t have time to place themselves out of harms way,” Whitmire said at a news conference.

With multiple transmission towers down, Hidalgo urged patience. Thousands of utility workers were headed to the area, where power had already been restored to roughly 200,000 customers. Another 100,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, down from a peak of 215,000.

“We are going to have to talk about this disaster in weeks, not days,” Hidalgo said.

She said she had heard “horror stories of just terror and powerlessness” as the storm came through. The weather service also reported straight-line winds of up to 100 mph (161 kph) in downtown Houston and the suburbs of Baytown and Galena Park.

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 Saturday, she hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

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

Yesenia Guzmán, 52, worried whether she would get paid with the power still out at the restaurant where she works in the Houston suburb of Katy.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she said.

The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill. Trees, debris and shattered glass littered the streets. One building's wall was ripped off.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes for more than 400,000 students and government offices were closed. City officials urged people avoid downtown and stay off roads, many of which were flooded or lined with downed power lines and malfunctioning traffic lights.

Whitmire said at least 2,500 traffic lights were out. He also warned would-be looters that “police are out in force, including 50 state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting.”

At least two of the deaths were caused by falling trees and another happened when a crane blew over in strong winds, officials said.

Whitmire's office posted a photo Friday on the social platform X showing the mayor signing a disaster declaration, which paves the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance.

President Joe Biden later issued a disaster declaration for seven counties in Texas, including Harris, due to severe weather since April 26. His action makes federal funding available to people affected by the storms.

The problems from Thursday's storms extended to the Houston suburbs, with emergency officials in neighboring Montgomery County describing the damage to transmission lines as “catastrophic.”

High-voltage transmission towers that were torn apart and downed power lines pose a twofold challenge for the utility company because the damage affected transmission and distribution systems, according to Alexandria von Meier, a power and energy expert who called that a rare thing.

“It’s more typical that the damage is just at the distribution system, which is, you know, just not as strong,” von Meier said, referring to power lines that tend to be more susceptible to wind damage.

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. Centerpoint Energy deployed 1,000 employees on Friday and had a pending request for 5,000 more line workers and vegetation professionals.

One silver lining, von Meier said, is that the damage was localized, unlike what happened in the 2021 statewide freeze, which could allow for other jurisdictions to send resources more readily. Although customers might want an aggressive repair timeline, she cautioned that it must proceed carefully and methodically.

“Because if you try to fix this kind of thing in a hurry and you try to restore power in a hurry, you might injure people. You would be putting the workers at risk. You could be putting other people at risk. You could be blowing up equipment that then is going to take longer to replace,” von Meier said.

The storms also weren’t over Friday. Gulf Coast states could experience scattered, severe thunderstorms with tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds. Heavy to excessive rainfall is possible for eastern Louisiana into central Alabama, the National Weather Service said. Flood watches and warnings remained Friday for Houston and areas to the east.

The Storm Prediction Center’s website showed a report of a tornado in Convent, Louisiana, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) from New Orleans, with multiple reports of trees and power poles down.

A suspected tornado hit the Romeville area of St. James Parish on Thursday night with some homes impacted and trees down, but no injuries or fatalities had been reported, parish officials said in a social media post on Friday morning.

There were wind gusts of 84 mph (135 kph) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and 82 mph (132 kph) at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, according to Tim Erickson, a meteorologist at the weather service’s office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge issued a flash flood warning through Saturday.

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

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The story has been updated to correct that school districts across the Houston area canceled classes Friday, not just the Houston Independent School District, and also the spelling of Cypress.

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Associated Press reporters Jamie Stengle in Dallas and Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen contributed.

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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Workers clean up broken glass inside a damaged downtown restaurant after a severe thunderstorm, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Cherly Herpich takes a photograph of a downtown building with blown out window 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Fans make their way into Minute Maid Park as a severe thunderstorm hit before a baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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A woman looks at the damage caused by fallen bricks from a building wall 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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A man walks over 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Carrie Jenkins stands in her living room by the light of her open front door, the only light in her home since losing power the night before in the aftermath of a severe storm, Friday, May 17, 2024 in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Rapper Trae tha Truth, in yellow, cuts fallen tree limbs on top of a car in the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm that passed through downtown, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Blown out windows on a high-rise downtown building are shown 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Blown out windows on a high-rise downtown building are shown 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Ada Duarte takes to go orders using only the light of her phone after losing power at Anita's Honduras Restaurant on Sowden Road in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Down power lines are shown in the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm Friday, May 17, 2024, in Cypress, Texas, near 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Olga Amaya, right, and Carlos Sanchez, from two families, grill tortillas for dinner after they lost power due to a severe storm, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Northeast Houston. A tree fell down in front of their house during Thursday's storm. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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A U.S. Postal Service truck is flipped on its side at the intersection of Bingle and Sowden in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Children play amongst fallen tree branches at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Sherwood in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. Fast-moving thunderstorms pummeled southeastern Texas for the second time this month, killing at least four people, blowing out windows in high-rise buildings, downing trees and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses in the Houston area. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Tree service crews climb atop an SUV to cut apart a tree that fell on it at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Sherwood in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. Fast-moving thunderstorms pummeled southeastern Texas for the second time this month, killing at least four people, blowing out windows in high-rise buildings, downing trees and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses in the Houston area. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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The wall of a tire shop at the intersection of Sowden and Bingle is blown out in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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A crane sits on top of a cement truck, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston, at an address where authorities say a man was killed when a crane fell on the cement truck he was sitting in during the previous night's storm. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Esther Ramirez, 88, eats breakfast on her porch as her two sons and great-grandson help clean debris from her yard after a storm Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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A video photojournalist shoots footage of damage at a tire shop at the intersection of Sowden and Bingle in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Dionysius Torreros, of the City of Houston, works on clearing a tree that toppled across Bingle Road in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill as crews raced to restore power and remove uprooted trees and debris. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Rap artist Trae the Truth and his ReliefGang serves pizza to residents at Pleasant Hill Village Retirement Community, that was without power in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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Down power lines are shown in the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm Friday, May 17, 2024, in Cypress, Texas, near 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. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Tree service crews climb atop an SUV to cut apart a tree that fell on it at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Sherwood in the aftermath of a severe storm on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston. Fast-moving thunderstorms pummeled southeastern Texas for the second time this month, killing at least four people, blowing out windows in high-rise buildings, downing trees and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses in the Houston area. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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A man uses a chainsaw to cut up a tree that tore off the facade of a house, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Houston, after a strong thunderstorm moved through Thursday evening. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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