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More Than 400,000 Lose Power As Tropical Storm Nicholas Moves Through Houston

Rain falls on a highway as vehicles travel by.
Camilo Hannibal Smith
/
Houston Public Media
Rain falls on Texas State Highway 288 near Interstate 59, on Sept. 13, 2021, ahead of Tropical Storm Nicholas’ landfall.

Updated 7:21 a.m. CDT Tuesday

More than 400,000 CenterPoint Energy customers are without power and parts of Harris County remain under a flood advisory as Tropical Storm Nicholas moved through Greater Houston Tuesday.

As of 7:20 a.m., CenterPoint Energy reported 432,571 customers without power as wind speeds ranged from 44 mph in Houston to 50 mph in Galveston, and 75 mph further southwest near Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay.

About 150,000 homes were without power in Houston alone Tuesday morning, according to Houston Emergency Management Coordinator Thomas Munoz.

Texas’ grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, reduced planned maintenance outages in areas expected to be hardest hit by the storm, and instructed power companies to use emergency procedures in preparation.

In an email, ERCOT insisted that any power outages from the storm are likely to be at the local distribution level, and recommended anyone experiencing outages to contact their electric service providers.

Galveston had received nearly 14 inches of rain by 5 a.m., with parts of Houston seeing more than 6-and-a-half inches.

Nicholas made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just after midnight Tuesday near Matagorda Bay, before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it slowly drifted northeast. Local officials asked Houston-area residents to stay indoors as the storm continued to move through the region.

The rain is expected to be pushed out of the area by Tuesday afternoon.

All Harris County offices and courts will remain closed through Tuesday, including all COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The county judge added that she had been in contact with Gov. Greg Abbott over the last two days, as well with local law enforcement, the Red Cross and local hospital systems. The county has reached out directly to people on the state’s emergency assistance list, Hidalgo said.

Abbott issued a disaster declaration Monday afternoon, asking the 17 counties affected by the storm to pay close attention to updates from local officials.

The governor also announced that Texas Task Force One — a FEMA search and rescue team — deployed at least six swiftwater boat squads, two water group supervisors and four helicopter squads in order to assist with any rescue and relief operations.

The Houston area — along with the rest of Southeast Texas — began preparing early Monday morning, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. The city decreased Lake Houston’s water level to minimize the potential of flooding, lowering the lake by more than 41 feet.

The city also deployed at least 43 barricades throughout the city in an attempt to reduce flooding, and urged residents to stay off the roads.

METRO light rail and local bus services were set to resume Tuesday morning as early as 8 a.m. on the city’s busiest routes, but METRO Park & Ride remains out of service. The agency added that riders should expect delays.

Only essential city employees are expected to work on Tuesday, with non-essential staff working remotely, Turner said.

Fire Chief Samuel Peña warned Houstonians against running generators indoors to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, and recommended residents use flashlights instead of open-flame candles.

“Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, but it is lethal,” Peña said.

Trash pickup was also suspended for Tuesday and will resume on Wednesday. Turner added that the city’s municipal courts would be closed Tuesday and reopen on Wednesday.

Gabe Casares, who leads Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office of People with Disabilities, said his office will rely on the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry to help people with disabilities weather the storm.

"We'll be using the information that is in the STEAR data to help us make those decisions and help us account for people with disabilities, that may have those access and functional needs, that may need to be evacuated with a hospital chair or power wheel chair,” Casares said.

The Harris Health System closed its outpatient clinics at 3 p.m. Monday in preparation for the storm, and will remain closed through Tuesday. Clinics will resume regularly scheduled appointments at noon on Wednesday.

LBJ and Ben Taub hospitals, as well as the health system's emergency centers, will remain open.

Red Cross Mobilizes

The Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast region had already begun preparations for the storm’s landfall Monday, and was planning to open shelters along the Gulf Coast.

It’s not immediately clear how quickly the storm will pass through the area or how much if any damage it will inflict on the area, though localized flooding is expected across Houston and surrounding areas. That uncertainty makes it difficult to gauge how many shelters will be needed, according to Red Cross regional spokesperson Jennifer Sparks.

“It really will depend on the damage and where that damage actually is,” Sparks said. “So we're going to be working with state and local officials. We're going to be very flexible and be present where the need is greatest.”

Open locations will be available on RedCross.org, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or by downloading the Red Cross app.

Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County Road and Bridge workers cleared debris from roadways throughout the night, and repairs are now underway as the winds continue to subside.

The county remains under a flash flood watch until Wednesday, and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management activated its emergency operations center Monday morning.

County Judge KP George urged drivers to use caution on the roadways Tuesday morning, and encouraged all residents to have a plan in place.

On Monday, Sheriff Eric Fagan issued a plea to motorists to avoid driving through water and avoid areas prone to flooding, including FM 1093 and Highway 99, Grand Parkway and Highway 90, and Highway 59 at Williams Parkway.

The sheriff added that extra personnel will be on hand to help vehicles avoid flooded areas.

School Closures

See all school closures on HoustonPublicMedia.org

Houston ISD canceled after-school activities on Monday and announced that all HISD schools — including virtual learning — and offices will be closed on Tuesday.

Tomball ISD, Channelview ISD, Spring Branch ISD, and Stafford MSD will also cancel after-school activities on Monday and be closed on Tuesday.

Clear Creek ISD and La Porte ISD canceled school on Monday and planned to make a decision regarding Tuesday at a later time.

The University of Houston, including UH at Katy and Sugar Land, closed Monday at 3 p.m. and will remain closed through Tuesday. The University of St. Thomas shut its doors at 12:00 p.m. Monday and will remain closed for the remainder of the day.

Many after-school programs and community centers in Houston closed Monday evening and will remain shut at least through Tuesday.

Deloyd Parker, who made the call to close the SHAPE community center in the Third Ward by early Monday afternoon, said his community has dealt with a lot in recent weeks. But, he added, he would reopen the center to shelter people if things get worse in his neighborhood.

“The flood, the rain, the influx of brothers and sisters we have coming from Louisiana who need help,” Parker said. “I mean we’re dealing with so many issues right now, we just have to keep our sanity, be rational and be helpful to one another.”