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Houston utility says 500K customers still won’t have electricity next week as Beryl outages persist

Austin, Texas — About 500,000 customers will still be without electricity next week as widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Beryl continue and frustration is increasing about the pace of the recovery, an official at Houston’s largest energy company said Thursday.

Jason Ryan, executive vice president of CenterPoint Energy, said power has been restored to more than 1 million homes and businesses since Beryl made landfall Monday. The company expects to bring hundreds of thousands of customers back online in the coming days, but others will have to wait much longer, he said.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” Ryan said at a meeting of the Texas Public Utility Commission, the state’s utility regulator. “We’re not going to stop the work until it’s done.”

Ryan predicted that the extended power outages into next week would be mostly along the Texas coast, closer to where Beryl made landfall.

The Category 1 hurricane, the weakest type, left about 2.7 million customers without power after it made landfall in Texas on Monday, according to PowerOutage.us.

CenterPoint Energy is struggling to restore power to affected customers, who are frustrated that such a relatively mild storm in the middle of summer could cause so much disruption.

Residents in the region have complained that the utility and state and city officials were unprepared for the storm, that the restoration process has been slow, and that CenterPoint’s online map that is supposed to show where power has been restored is woefully inaccurate, sometimes showing entire neighborhoods as having power back when there was still no power.

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The company acknowledged that most of the 12,000 workers it had hired to help with the recovery were not in the Houston area when the storm hit. Early forecasts had called for the storm to make landfall much farther south along the Gulf Coast, near the Texas-Mexico border, before heading toward Houston.

According to Ryan, the vast majority of the outages were caused by falling trees and branches, and workers had to assess damage to more than 8,500 miles of power lines.

Beryl has been blamed for at least eight deaths in the U.S. — one each in Louisiana and Vermont, and six in Texas. Earlier, 11 people died in the Caribbean.

The storm’s impact on many Texas residents was far from over, however. Power was severely damaged. Days later, much of the nation’s fourth-largest city was sweltering and humid, with conditions deemed potentially dangerous by the National Weather Service.

“Maybe they didn’t think it would be that bad, but it had a huge impact. They should have been better prepared,” construction worker Carlos Rodriguez, 39, said Wednesday as he gathered apples, oranges and ready-to-eat meal kits at a food distribution center. His family, which includes two daughters, ages 3 and 7, was struggling, he said.

“We have no electricity, we go to bed late and I use a fan made from a piece of cardboard to give my kids some relief,” Rodriguez said.

Hospitals sent patients who couldn’t be sent to homes without power to a sports and entertainment complex where a space had been set up to hold up to 250 people. As of late Wednesday afternoon, about 40 patients had arrived and another 70 to 75 were on their way, Office of Emergency Management spokesman Brent Taylor said.

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Gov. Greg Abbott, who is in Asia on an economic development trip, questioned why Houston has repeatedly been plagued by power outages after extreme weather. In an interview with Austin television station KTBC, Abbott, who has been governor since 2014, said he would direct the Texas Public Utility Commission to investigate that, as well as the preparations for and response to Beryl.

Meanwhile, Houston Mayor John Whitmire bluntly called on the utility to do a better job.

“That’s the consensus of the people of Houston. That’s mine,” Whitmire said.

___ Lathan is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues.



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