Beryl weakens to a tropical depression after hitting Texas as a Category 1 hurricane

By MARK VANCLEAVE and JUAN A. LOZANO – Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — After Hurricane Beryl hit Texas early Monday, knocking out power to nearly 3 million homes and businesses, unleashing heavy rains and killing at least three people, it moved east and later weakened to a tropical depression, the National Hurricane Center said Monday evening. The fast-moving storm threatens to cut a rough path across several more states in the coming days.

Texas state and regional authorities warned it could take several days to restore power after Beryl hit the coast as a Category 1 hurricane, destroying 10 power lines and downing trees that took down power lines.

Beryl later weakened to a tropical storm and then to a tropical depression, far less powerful than the Category 5 behemoth that cut a deadly swath of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean last weekend. But the fast-moving storm’s winds and rains were still strong enough to knock down hundreds of trees already swaying in waterlogged soil and strand dozens of cars on flooded roads.

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As the storm moved inland, it threatened to spawn tornadoes, and the National Weather Service confirmed on social media that tornadoes had been spotted in northeast Louisiana. Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said in a Facebook post that a woman was killed in the Benton area when a tree fell on her home.

“We are not beyond difficult situations yet,” said Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is acting governor while Governor Greg Abbott is out of the country. He warned that it will be a “multi-day process to restore power.”

Houston was hit hard when CenterPoint Energy reported that more than two million homes and businesses were without power in and around the nation’s fourth-largest city. Patrick said the company has deployed thousands of extra workers to restore power, with nursing homes and assisted living facilities as its top priority.

At least two people were killed when trees fell on homes, and the National Hurricane Center said damaging winds and flash flooding would continue as Beryl moves inland. A third person, a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department, was killed when he became trapped in floodwaters beneath a freeway overpass, Houston Mayor John Whitmire said. But there were no immediate reports of widespread building damage.

For Houston, the power outages were an all too familiar experience: In May, violent storms swept through the area, claiming eight lives, leaving nearly a million people without power and flooding numerous streets.

Residents who were left without power after Beryl did their best.

“We barely slept,” said Eva Costancio, looking at a large tree that had fallen onto power lines in her neighborhood in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg. Costancio, 67, said she had already been without power for several hours and was worried the food in her refrigerator would spoil.

“We struggle to have enough food and it would be difficult to lose that food,” she said.

Houston and Harris County officials said power crews were being sent to the area to restore power as quickly as possible, an urgent priority for households also without air conditioning in the middle of summer. Temperatures, cooled somewhat by the storm, are expected to rise above 80 degrees as early as Tuesday. The National Weather Service issued a heat warning, saying the heat index for the region could reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

The state will be prepared to open cooling centers as well as food and water distribution centers, said Nim Kidd, director of state emergency operations.

Rains from Beryl hit Houston and other coastal areas on Monday, re-closing roads in neighborhoods already flooded by earlier storms. Television stations on Monday showed the dramatic rescue of a man who climbed onto the roof of his pickup truck after it became trapped in the fast-flowing waters. Rescue workers used a fire truck’s extendable ladder to toss him a life preserver and rope before bringing him to shore.

Houston authorities reported at least 25 rescues from the water by Monday afternoon, mostly of people whose vehicles were stuck in the floodwaters.

“First responders risk their lives. That’s what they’re trained to do. And it works,” said Houston Mayor John Whitmire.

Javier Mejia was one of about 20 people who gathered near the pickup truck’s rescue site to take photos of other submerged vehicles parked on the flooded highway.

“If you don’t have a way through, you’re stuck like this,” Mejia said.

Mejia had experienced previous storms in Houston and stocked up on food and water before Beryl arrived, but forgot to bring gas for his portable generator. He planned to spend the day searching for gas.

“I don’t want it to go bad,” he said of the food, adding that if he can’t find gas, “we can just fire up the grill.”

Many streets and neighborhoods across Houston were littered with fallen branches and other debris. The hum of chainsaws could be heard Monday afternoon as residents set about cutting up fallen trees and large branches that had blocked streets and sidewalks.

Patrick warned that flooding could last for several days as rain continued to fall on already soaked ground.

“This is not a one-day event,” he said.

President Joe Biden received regular updates on the state of the country after the storm made landfall, the White House said. The U.S. Coast Guard and FEMA had prepared search and rescue teams, and FEMA was collecting bottled water, meals, tarps and power generators in case they were needed.

Several companies with refineries or industrial facilities in the region reported that the power outages required them to flare gases at their facilities.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. said it had conducted a “safe burn of excess gases” at its Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, but did not provide details on the amount of gas flared or how long it would continue. Formosa Plastics Corporation and Freeport LNG also reported flaring related to beryl, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

A TCEQ representative said in an email that companies would have 24 hours to share their emissions data after flaring ceases.

Beryl was the first storm to become a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, and it left at least 11 people dead as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. In Jamaica, officials said Monday that islanders will face food shortages after Beryl destroyed more than $6.4 million worth of crops and infrastructure.

Heavy rains were expected in Louisiana throughout Monday and “there is a risk of heavy rain and flash flooding,” National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones said in a Facebook Live briefing Monday morning.

The weather service in Shreveport issued tornado warnings for all of northwest Louisiana. The agency confirmed on social media that several tornadoes had been sighted in that corner of the state. Information on whether these weather events caused significant damage was not immediately available.

Beryl is forecast to bring more heavy rain and wind to more states in the coming days. One of those states, Missouri, has already been battling a wet summer. Heavy rains unrelated to the storm prompted several water rescues around the city of Columbia, where rivers and streams were already flooding ahead of Beryl’s expected arrival on Tuesday.

Associated Press reporters Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, Corey Williams in Detroit, Julie Walker in New York, Melina Walling in Chicago and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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