Homes are surrounded in floodwater after Hurricane Beryl swept through the area on July 08, 2024 in Surfside Beach, Texas. Image Credit: AFP

Houston is struggling through Hurricane Beryl's chaotic aftermath, with blackouts, blocked roads, internet disruptions and spotty access to gas expected to linger well after the storm's floodwaters recede.

More than 1 million homes and businesses are likely to be without power until at least Wednesday night, according to the region's main electric utility, CenterPoint Energy Inc. The outages, which at their peak cut power to more than 2.5 million customers across the region, knocked out cell phone towers, traffic lights and a major data center, while leaving residents to swelter through a heat wave. Many sought the shelter of air-conditioned hotel rooms only to find the properties either blacked out or booked solid.

The storm itself had moved on. Beryl, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone after striking Texas as a Category 1 hurricane, brought heavy rain Tuesday to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, carving a path to the northeast. The National Weather Service warned that northern New York and New England faced flash-flooding risks Wednesday.

read more

But in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, recovery will take time. AccuWeather Inc. estimated Beryl's cost in the US, counting both damages and economic losses, could reach $28 billion to $32 billion. The Associated Press reported at least seven US deaths from the storm, six in Texas and one in Louisiana.

Patricia Chapman and her mother Michelle Brown, who have a seafood catering business, found themselves stuck at home without power, unable to work or even talk to customers because cell service kept failing.

"We're losing money," said Brown, 55. "Normally, we'd be working right now."

Instead, they tried to look after Chapman's four children, all under age 10, in 95-degree heat. They searched for a hotel room, with no luck. Chapman, 34, said the city seemed less ready for Beryl than it had been for some of the other storms it has faced in the past, like Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"For this one not being as dramatic as Harvey, the power being out this long is bad," she said. "It feels like we weren't prepared."

Mayor John Whitmire said he understood the public's frustrations, even as he assured residents that CenterPoint was trying to get power back as quickly as possible. Nine fire stations are inoperable because of a lack of electricity and no access to backup generators, which he called outrageous.

"The public has questions "- they have a right to answers," he said at an evening press conference. "We are in constant touch with CenterPoint. We are holding them accountable."

Acting Texas Governor Dan Patrick said the focus right now is on restoring power, then looking at CenterPoint's preparation and response.

Gas, cell disruptions

Misa Lewis, 28, drove around for hours before finding gas at a Roadster convenience store in Westchase, on the west side of Houston.

"I've been to 12 gas stations "- I'm totally on empty," she said. "I didn't even think I could make it. Only God brought me here." After filling up, she went into the store to buy a gas can, so she could take more home.

Travis Profitt, AT&T Inc.'s national director of network disaster recovery, said the company's cell towers had survived Beryl's high winds, but many lacked power. AT&T deployed more than 200 portable generators to towers around Houston to restore service. Just navigating the city, with its inoperable traffic signals and blocked streets, was a logistical challenge, he said.

"You just have to be patient and understand there's a lot of people trying to do the same thing," Profitt said.

Lumen Technologies Inc. said post-hurricane power outages were prompting partial service disruptions for its Houston-area clients. The internet-service provider's local data center, a 51,300-square-foot property in the Greenspoint neighborhood, is relying on backup generators.

"The commercial power failure is impacting multiple companies in the area, including Lumen," spokesman Mark Molzen said in an email. "We are maintaining partial service using generators" while working with the power company on the issue.

The outage shows the vulnerability of data centers at a time artificial intelligence has made them more important than ever. The expanding electricity and cooling demands of such facilities have grown increasingly contentious, with the surge in power use from data centers now outstripping available power supplies in many parts of the world.