World

Beryl unleashes high winds and heavy rains, leaving 2 million without power

Hurricane Beryl has been downgraded to a tropical storm after sweeping into Texas as a Category 1 storm with heavy rains and powerful winds.

Beryl has again strengthened into hurricane force (Houston Chronicle via AP)
Beryl has again strengthened into hurricane force (Houston Chronicle via AP) (Jennifer Reynolds/AP)

Hurricane Beryl swept into Texas early on Monday with heavy rains and powerful winds, knocking out power to two million homes and businesses and flooding streets with fast-rising waters as first responders raced to rescue stranded residents.

Beryl had already cut a deadly path through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean before turning toward Texas. At least two people were killed.

Power lines downed by the effects of Hurricane Beryl block a highway near Palacios, Texas (Eric Gay/AP)
Power lines downed by the effects of Hurricane Beryl block a highway near Palacios, Texas (Eric Gay/AP) (Eric Gay/AP)

The Category 1 hurricane hit land just before 4am, then weakened to a tropical storm about five hours later.

The National Hurricane Centre said damaging winds and flash flooding will continue as Beryl continues pushing inland.

CenterPoint Energy in Houston reported that two million homes and businesses were without power. Flood warnings were in effect across a wide stretch of the Texas coast, where a powerful storm surge pushed water ashore, and further inland as heavy rain continued to fall.

High waters quickly began to close streets in storm-weary Houston, which was again under flood warnings after heavy storms in recent months washed out neighbourhoods.

Television stations 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 was under a flash-flood warning for most of the morning as heavy rain continued to soak the city.

Flood warnings also were in effect across a wide stretch of the Texas coast, where a powerful storm surge pushed water ashore, and further inland as heavy rain continued to fall.

Rosenberg police noted that one of their high-water vehicles was hit by a falling tree while returning from a rescue, and they urged people to stay off the roads.

Two people were killed after trees fell on their houses: a man in the Houston suburb of Humble and a woman in Harris County, authorities said.

Beryl had weakened to a tropical storm after damaging Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula but became a hurricane again late on Sunday. The storm’s centre hit land about 85 miles (137 kilometres) south-west of Houston with top sustained winds of 80mph (129kph).

More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled at Houston’s two airports, according to tracking data from FlightAware.

Beryl is expected to weaken to a tropical storm on Monday and a tropical depression on Tuesday, the weather service said, forecasting a turn to the north-east and an increase in speed on Monday night and Tuesday.

The storm’s centre is expected to move over eastern Texas on Monday and then through the lower Mississippi Valley into the Ohio Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weather service said.

“Beryl’s moving inland but this is not the end of the story yet,” said Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Centre.

People on the Texas coast boarded up windows and left beach towns under evacuation orders. The storm was projected to come ashore early on Monday in the middle of the Texas coast around Matagorda Bay, an area about 100 miles south of Houston, but officials cautioned its path could still change.

As the storm neared the coast, Texas officials warned on Sunday it could cause power outages and flooding but also expressed worries that not enough residents and beach vacationers in Beryl’s path had heeded warnings to leave.

“One of the things that kind of trigger our concern a little bit, we’ve looked at all of the roads leaving the coast and the maps are still green,” said Dan Patrick, who is serving as the state’s acting governor while governor Greg Abbott is travelling overseas. “So we don’t see many people leaving.”