Houston-area residents share accounts of fast-developing severe ...

18 May 2024

Gail Delaughter/Houston Public Media

A utility pole fell onto North San Jacinto Street in downtown Houston in the aftermath of severe storms on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Many Houston-area residents were caught off guard Thursday evening when powerful storms and at least one tornado blew through the region, causing at least seven deaths, widespread power outages, downed trees and extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure.

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Photo Houston Public Media

There was a similar sense of surprise Friday as Houstonians surveyed the impacts and reflected on what had happened.

"I had no idea it had gotten this bad," said Julia Orms, who lives in a downtown area where glass was blown out of buildings while trees, signs and traffic signals fell onto streets. "Seeing everything I'm seeing today is almost mind-blowing to me. That is not what I expected."

Nearly 1 million homes and businesses lost electricity at one point Thursday night, and more than 600,000 remained without power as of Friday afternoon, according to CenterPoint Energy. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Houston/Galveston office said Friday afternoon that a tornado was confirmed to have touched down near Cypress, a suburb northwest of Houston, and wind speeds greater than 70 mph were recorded in multiple parts of the region.

In addition to the weather-related deaths reported by the City of Houston and Harris County Sheriff’s Office, two Westwide High School students were injured while riding a bus that got caught in the storm, according to Houston ISD, which said the students were at home Friday and recovering. The school district, which reported power outages at 136 of its campuses and extensive damage to four elementary schools, was among many throughout the region that called off classes Friday.

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Photo Houston Public Media

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

Pictured is an uprooted and fallen tree in Houston’s Heights neighborhood on Friday, May 17, 2024.

"My experience last night was so crazy," said Copperfield resident Torryeona Beckwith, who lost power and had tree branches fall on her house and in her pool. "I never had to deal with nothing like this. I'm not from Houston. I'm from California, so we don't have this type of crazy weather out here like this."

Some commuters encountered heavy rain, fierce winds and limited visibility while driving home on Houston-area roads early Thursday evening, when daylight temporarily gave way to nighttime-like skies. The same was true for those who ventured into town from outlying areas.

Cypress resident Carlos Escobedo drove downtown along with his mother and aunt. They attended the Luis Miguel concert at the Toyota Center.

"On the way down there, obviously we were in the storm, and it was just complete chaos on the highways," Escobedo said. "Once we got down there, the concert still went on and everything."

Kay Rake described a harrowing moment while riding on a METRORail train near the University of Houston.

"The train starts shaking, and all you see is a bunch of gusts of wind go over us, like going on in a circle," Rake said. "For a minute, it was a lot of thunder and lightning that followed behind it. After that it pretty much calmed down."

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Photo Houston Public Media

Colleen DeGuzman/Houston Public Media

The clubhouse for the Avalon at Cypress community was damaged by storms on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who issued a disaster declaration for the county while Houston Mayor John Whitmire made one for the city, compared the storm to Hurricane Ike in 2008, when winds were strong enough to shatter glass on the side of downtown buildings. The same thing happened Thursday night – although the Houston Astros' baseball game against the Oakland Athletics was played as scheduled even though rain seeped through an otherwise-closed Minute Maid Park.

Abel Macias, who works at a downtown parking garage, said Friday that broken glass could be found throughout.

"When the storm hit, it blew all the glass into each level of the garage," he said. "We have 12 floors in the garage, so it's a lot of glass on each level. There is a lot of glass on top of the roof right now."

Downed trees, and damage caused by them, appeared to be extensive across the region. Among the locales with fallen trees were Cypress, the Heights neighborhood and Jacinto City, which is east of Houston.

"There were a lot of uprooted trees, split trees, trees split right down the center, just all over the neighborhood," said Jacinto City resident Steve Knight.

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Photo Houston Public Media

Added his wife, Karen Knight: "I'm sure the city crews and everybody is cleaning up their yards. The city crews are busy."

The Houston Office of Emergency Management encouraged residents impacted by fallen trees to make service requests for them to be removed instead of handling that themselves. Downed trees can be reported through the online 311 system or by calling 311 or 713-837-0311.

Colleen DeGuzman/Houston Public Media

Electricity transmission towers in the Cypress area were damaged by the storms that blew through the Houston region on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

CenterPoint, which supplies electricity to the Houston region, urged residents to remain at least 35 feet away from downed power lines and damaged electricity infrastructure. Such damage can be reported to the company by calling 713-207-2222.

"I did not expect to see electrical towers destroyed and maimed," said Escobedo, the Cypress resident.

La Sabrosa Meat Market in Channelview, which is east of Houston, was among the local businesses to lose power but remained open to serve its customers. Owner Patricia Gonzalez said the store used ice to keep its meat products cold and, because its register was not working, prices were estimated in some cases.

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Photo Houston Public Media

Gonzalez said the meat market also remained open in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"It's really not about the business here," she said. "It's more about serving the community."

Patricia Ortiz/Houston Public Media

La Sabrosa Meat Market in Channelview remained opened on Friday, May 17, 2024 despite being without power after storms the night before.

Local residents seeking refuge, relief and resources can visit YMCA of Greater Houston locations across the region. While some are closed because of power outages, the others will be open to community members on Friday and Saturday.

Impacted residents who visit the YMCA can charge their electronic devices and take hot showers, among other services.

Additionally, the City of Houston is opening five cooling centers Friday afternoon for residents without air-conditioning. The Kingwood Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Dr., and Stude Park Community Center, 1031 Stude St. will be open from 2-7 p.m., while the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center at 6719 West Montgomery Rd., the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center at 1475 West Gray St. and the Sunnyside Health and Multi-Service Center at 4510 Reed Rd. will be open from 3-7 p.m.

Free rides to a cooling center can be requested through the city's 311 system.

Colleen DeGuzman, José Escobar, Patricia Ortiz and Tom Perumean contributed to this report.

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