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Power for nearly 1 million Houston buildings could be out for days after storm


Houston, Texas, is reeling after thunderstorms with hurricane-force winds tore through the city. The storms knocked out electricity in nearly a million homes and businesses. City officials say power could be out for days. At least four people were killed and many injured amid the widespread damage. Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media is there. And Lucio, tell me a little bit more about this storm and the damage it caused.

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Well, we know a tornado touched down west of the city last night, bringing extreme winds of up to 100 miles per hour into downtown Houston. Those winds raged on for about 30 minutes and eventually moved eastward. Now we're left with considerable damage throughout the region. We've got trees and branches spewed across roadways, downed power lines and transmission towers, and pretty severe structural damage to buildings in downtown.

Also, this is the second time the Houston area has been battered by extreme weather in the last two weeks. We recently saw some severe flooding north of Houston, and thousands of people had to be evacuated. Thankfully, those areas didn't see the worst of last night's storm.

KELLY: Hmm, a small piece of good news there. I did mention that four people were killed in this storm last night. Do we know any more about them?

VASQUEZ: Well, unfortunately, we still don't know much about those who had passed away. Officials believed fallen trees caused two of the fatalities, while another person was reportedly killed after a crane was blown over by the wind. Their official cause of death is still unknown, and we also don't know just how many people were injured last night, either.

KELLY: So give us a sense of the conversation. You've been out talking to people in Houston. What are they telling you?

VASQUEZ: Well, Houston gets the occasional hurricane, but everyone that I spoke with told me that they haven't seen anything like this ever, really, in Houston. People were given very little notice as to how intense the storm would be. Last night, I met an unhoused man named Ellwood Webb in downtown. He told me he was headed to a corner store when the winds picked up.

ELLWOOD WEBB: It was terrible. You know, I was hanging onto a pole, and my legs were, like, up here in the air.

VASQUEZ: The area saw significant damage, with countless windows being blown out, leaving a large amount of glass scattered across the streets below. I also spoke with Ayesha Najam. She was staying towards the top of a 55-story hotel last night.

AYESHA NAJAM: As soon as it started to get dark, the building started to sway. Like, our chairs were moving around, and then some of our filing cabinets are on, like, a rail system. They started moving. And it was like - I'm on crutches, so, like, I was swaying. And so we all kind of just headed for the stairwell.

VASQUEZ: Many said they were surprised by the severity of the damage, and it'll be a while until those windows are replaced.

KELLY: Oh, my goodness - that poor woman on crutches. OK. What are officials saying about trying to get things back to normal and how long that might take?

VASQUEZ: Yeah, officials are cautioning patience, basically. They're warning that it'll likely be weeks - not days - to get things straightened out. As of now, more than 700,000 people are still without power. And, unfortunately, local officials say it could take several weeks to restore power to some Houston-area residents.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire issued a state of disaster for the city, which should create a path for additional state and federal resources. For now, though, Mayor Whitmire is urging people to stay off the roads in downtown. He says thousands of traffic lights are still out.


JOHN WHITMIRE: As I talk to you, our first responders are spread thin. Stay away from downtown. Stay off the road unless you're an essential worker.

VASQUEZ: At the state level, Texas Governor Greg Abbott amended a previous disaster declaration that was issued from the flooding we saw two weeks ago. This should allow for even more resources to be directed to the region.

KELLY: Reporter Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media getting us up to speed on the deadly storms that have hit that city - Lucio, thank you. We will hope that y'all get a quieter weekend coming up.

VASQUEZ: Well, much appreciated. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lucio Vasquez | Houston Public Media
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