Texans suffer through summer swelter after Hurricane Beryl knocks out power

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Almost 2mn households remained without power in Texas on Wednesday, two days after the state was battered by Hurricane Beryl, leaving many to swelter in the baking summer heat without air conditioning.

Beryl caused widespread damage when it slammed into the US Gulf Coast on Monday morning, triggering extensive flooding and downing power lines across the Houston area. At least 10 people were killed. 

The fallout continued on Wednesday, with recriminations flying as state officials and utilities scrambled to repair the damage and bring electricity back online in America’s fourth-largest city, where furnace-level heat and Gulf of Mexico humidity combine to make it consistently one of the hottest urban centres in the US, according to AccuWeather.

There were 1.7mn customers without access to electricity in the region on Wednesday morning, according to poweroutage.us, down from a peak of 2.7mn on Monday, with the local heat index set to soar as high as 106F.

The National Weather Service warned: “Continued power outages and the lack of air conditioning will aggravate the risk for heat-related illnesses.”

The sluggish pace of the recovery effort led to clashes between state and federal authorities. President Joe Biden told local media it had been difficult to “track down” Texas Governor Greg Abbott to formally request a disaster declaration in order to speed federal aid. 

Abbott, who has been travelling in Asia on an economic development trip, denied the claim and accused the president of memory failure. “Not once did he call me during Beryl,” the governor wrote on X on Tuesday. 

Authorities set up cooling centres around the city to allow people to take shelter from the heat as locals ditched their homes and offices to swarm bars and coffee shops.

Bernie Mooney, 40, a finance worker in the city, was forced to sleep in his car on Monday night as baking conditions made his house unlivable. 

“The heat was unbearable,” said Mooney. “The power went out at 5am on Monday morning. As the day went on the temperature inside got up to 100F. So I got the duvet and pillows and headed out to my Tesla and put on camp mode.”

CenterPoint, Houston’s main utility, came under particular scrutiny over the slow pace of recovering power. It accounted for 1.4mn of the outages on Wednesday morning, according to the company.

“If they made mistakes beforehand, then that will be addressed,” Dan Patrick, acting governor while Abbott is abroad, said of CenterPoint. “Any thought that people were surprised that the storm might come to Houston is shocking to me.”

CenterPoint said it had brought in almost 12,000 frontline labourers, including linemen and tree trimmers, from as far afield as Ohio and West Virginia, to help the effort as it worked to bring power back online. 

The company said it had restored power to more than 850,000 people by Wednesday morning and anticipated increasing that figure to 1mn by the end of the day. “We want to assure customers that we are working as safely and as quickly as possible to restore power,” CenterPoint said in a statement. “This remains our highest priority.”

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