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Beryl weakens to tropical depression after slamming into Texas as Category 1 hurricane

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HOUSTON (AP) — After Hurricane Beryl slammed into Texas early Monday, knocking out power to nearly 3 million homes and businesses, unleashing heavy rain and killing at least three people it moved east and later weakened to a tropical depression, the National Hurricane Center said Monday evening. The fast-moving tempest threatened to carve a harsh path over several more states in coming days.

Texas state and local officials warned it could take several days to restore power after Beryl came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane and toppled 10 transmission lines and knocked down trees that took down power lines.

Beryl later weakened into a tropical storm and then a tropical depression, far less powerful than the Category 5 behemoth that tore a deadly path of destruction through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean last weekend. But the winds and rains of the fast-moving storm were still powerful enough to knock down hundreds of trees that had already been teetering in water-saturated earth, and strand dozens of cars on flooded roadways.

As it moved inland, the storm threatened to spawn tornadoes and the National Weather Service confirmed on social media that tornadoes had been spotted in northeastern Louisiana. Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said in a Facebook post that a woman was killed in the Benton area when a tree fell on her home.

“We’re not past any difficult conditions,” said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is out of the country, warning it would be a ”multiple day process to get power restored.”

Houston took a hard hit as CenterPoint Energy reported more than 2 million homes and businesses without power in and around the nation’s fourth-largest city. Patrick said the company was bringing in thousands of additional workers to restore power, with top priority for places such as nursing homes and assisted living centers.

At least two people were killed when trees fell on homes, and the National Hurricane Center said damaging winds and flash flooding would continue as Beryl pushes inland. A third person, a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department, was killed when he was trapped in flood waters under a highway overpass, Houston Mayor John Whitmire said. There were no immediate reports of widespread structural damage, however.

The loss of power was an all-too familiar experience for Houston: Powerful storms had just ripped through the area in May, killing eight people, leaving nearly 1 million without power and flooding numerous streets.

Residents without power after Beryl were doing their best.

“We haven’t really slept,” said Eva Costancio as she gazed at a large tree that had fallen across electric lines in her neighborhood in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg. Costancio, 67, said she had already been without power for several hours and worried that food in her refrigerator would be spoiled.

“We are struggling to have food and losing that food would be difficult,” she said.

Houston and Harris County officials said power crews would be sent into the area to restore service as quickly as possible, an urgent priority for homes also left without air conditioning in the middle of summer. Temperatures, which had cooled slightly with the storm, were expected to reach back into the 90s as early as Tuesday. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory that said the area heat index could reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius).

The state will be ready to open cooling centers as well as food and water distribution centers, said Nim Kidd, chief of state emergency operations.

Beryl’s rains pounded Houston and other areas of the coast on Monday, reclosing streets in neighborhoods that had already been washed out by previous storms. Television stations on Monday broadcast the dramatic rescue of a man who had climbed to the roof of his pickup truck after it got trapped in fast-flowing waters. Emergency crews used an extension ladder from a fire truck to drop him a life preserver and a tether before moving him to dry land.

Houston officials reported at least 25 water rescues by Monday afternoon, mostly for people with vehicles stuck in floodwaters.

“First responders are putting their lives at risk. That’s what they’re trained for. It’s working,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said.

Javier Mejia was one of about 20 people who gathered near the pickup truck rescue site to take pictures of other submerged vehicles sitting on the flooded highway.

“If you don’t have a way through, you’re going to get stuck like that,” Mejia said.

Having experienced previous storms in Houston, Mejia stocked up on food and water before Beryl hit, but forgot gas for his portable generator. He planned to spend the day looking for some.

“I don’t want it to go bad,” he said of the food, adding that if he can’t find gas, “We can just fire up the grill.”

Many streets and neighborhoods throughout Houston were littered with fallen branches and other debris. The buzz of chainsaws filled the air Monday afternoon as residents set to work chopping up knocked-down trees and big branches that had blocked streets and sidewalks.

Patrick warned that flooding could last for days as rain continued to fall on already saturated ground.

“This is not a one-day event,” he said.

President Joe Biden was getting regular updates on the storm after it made landfall, the White House said. The U.S. Coast Guard and FEMA had prepared search and rescue teams, and FEMA collected bottled water, meals, tarps and electric generators in case they are needed.

Several companies with refineries or industrial plants in the area reported that the power disruptions necessitated the flaring of gases at the facilities.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. said it conducted a “safe combustion of excess gases” at its Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, but did not provide information on the amount of gas flared or how long it would continue. Formosa Plastics Corporation and Freeport LNG also reported flaring related to Beryl, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Companies have 24 hours to share emissions data after the flaring stops, a representative from the TCEQ said in an email.

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. In Jamaica, officials said Monday that island residents will have to contend with food shortages after Beryl destroyed over $6.4 million in crops and supporting infrastructure.

In Louisiana, heavy bands of rain were expected all day Monday and “the risk is going to be for that heavy rainfall and potential for flash flooding,” National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones said in a Monday morning Facebook Live briefing.

The weather service in Shreveport issued tornado warnings across northwest Louisiana. The agency confirmed on social media that multiple tornadoes had been spotted in that corner of the state. Information on whether those weather events have caused any significant damage was not immediately available.

Beryl was forecast to bring more strong rain and winds into additional states over the coming days. One of those, Missouri was already dealing with a wet summer. Heavy rains unrelated to the storm prompted several water rescues around the city of Columbia, where rivers and creeks were already high ahead of Beryl’s expected arrival on Tuesday.

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Associated Press reporters Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas; Corey Williams in Detroit; Julie Walker in New York; Melina Walling in Chicago; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

By MARK VANCLEAVE and JUAN A. LOZANO
Associated Press

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