After Beryl tears through Texas, residents are caught between persistent flooding and rising temperatures

The storm left at least eight dead and millions remain without power, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses as a heat wave grips the entire country

Huracán Beryl en Texas
A flooded area in Surfside Beach (Texas), on July 8.Adrees Latif (Reuters)
Nicholas Dale Leal

After the storm, the calm has yet to reach Texas. After Beryl tore through the state on Monday, leaving at least eight dead — in the first of a hurricane season that is expected to be historic — the risk of flooding persists as temperatures increase, driven by a heat wave that is affecting the entire country. State authorities estimate that returning power to the nearly three million homes and businesses that suffered outages from the Category 1 storm will take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Acting Governor Dan Patrick, who is filling in for Greg Abbott while the latter is out of the country, announced that energy company CenterPoint Energy will bring in thousands of additional workers to restore power. According to Patrick, the hurricane took down 10 transmission lines and many of the service outages were caused by downed trees. Fallen trees also caused several of the deaths attributed to Beryl, along with a house fire believed to have been caused by lightning, and drowning.

A destroyed house in Surfside Beach, after the hurricane.
A destroyed house in Surfside Beach, after the hurricane.Kaylee Greenlee Beal (Reuters)

When Beryl made landfall in Texas on Monday it was far from the Category 5 hurricane that had destroyed Caribbean islands and hit parts of Mexico a few days earlier; by then it had been downgraded to tropical storm, but it still unleashed heavy rains. In a short time the flooding had trapped dozens of cars on streets and highways, while the winds knocked down hundreds of trees, already fragile due to the saturated soil. In the coming days the storm is expected to affect several other states. According to the National Hurricane Center, dangerous winds and flash flooding will continue as the storm moves forward.

As the dark clouds of Beryl gave way to the harsh summer sun, the need to restore power became increasingly urgent as Texas grapples with a heat wave. In the Houston metropolitan area, the fourth most populated city in the country, more than two million homes and businesses suffered outages due to storms for the second time this year, while temperatures were forecast to climb into the mid-90s on Wednesday. The National Weather Service in Houston had a heat advisory in place for Wednesday, warning that “with power outages continuing across South-East Texas, the lack of air conditioning will aggravate the risk for heat-related illnesses.”

In the city of Galveston, south of Houston, authorities warned of difficulties still ahead. “As efforts move full steam ahead, we want residents to be aware and prepare for a possible multi-day outage. The estimate is between 72 hours and two weeks in some areas.”

Hotel workers walk the hallways after the building suffered a blackout on July 8 in Galveston.
Hotel workers walk the hallways after the building suffered a blackout on July 8 in Galveston.Rich Matthews (REUTERS)

On Monday afternoon in Houston, the sound of chainsaws echoed as citizens got to work clearing streets and sidewalks of trees and branches that were blocking the roads. But acting governor Patrick warned that flooding could return within the week if heavy rain fell on already highly saturated areas.

The situation has also affected the industrial engine of the state. This area of Texas has a large number of oil refineries and several companies announced that it has become necessary to activate flaring —the burning of residual or preventive natural gas due to pressure changes in the plant— because of changes in the electrical supply. It is not yet clear how much gas was burned, nor what impact on emissions this may have had.

Beryl, the fastest storm to become a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean towards Texas. The storm ripped off doors, windows and roofs with devastating winds and tides fueled by record-breaking Atlantic heat. On three occasions in the past week, Beryl increased its wind speed by 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) in 24 hours or less, the official definition of rapid intensification.

Beryl’s explosive growth is due to warm water from the Atlantic and Caribbean and is just a prelude to what the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the rest of the season, experts have warned. In Jamaica, authorities said Monday that island residents will face food shortages after Beryl destroyed more than $6.4 million worth of crops and infrastructure.

A man observes the damage in his neighbor's garden, in Bay City, Texas, this Monday.
A man observes the damage in his neighbor's garden, in Bay City, Texas, this Monday.Eric Gay (AP)

In Louisiana, “the risk will be for heavy rain and the potential for flash flooding,” the National Weather Service said. State meteorologists are also watching out for “fast-moving tornadoes,” said Donald Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “It’s just a matter of exactly where it’s going to be,” Jones added. “It is very difficult to predict it more than an hour in advance.”

Beryl is forecast to bring more rain and strong winds to other states in the coming days. One of them, Missouri, is already dealing with a wet summer. Heavy rains unrelated to the storm prompted several water rescues around the city of Columbia, where rivers and streams were already swollen before Beryl’s arrival on Tuesday.

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