Houston storm knocked out electricity to nearly 1 million users and left several dead, including a man who tried to power an oxygen tank with his car

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As the Houston area works to clean up and restore power to thousands after deadly storms that left at least seven people dead, it will do so Saturday under a smog warning and as all of southern Texas starts to feel the heat.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said three people died during the storm, including an 85-year-old woman whose home caught fire after being struck by lightning and a 60-year-old man who had tried to use his vehicle to power his oxygen tank.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire previously said at least four people were killed in the city when the storms swept through Harris County, which includes Houston.

The National Weather Service issued flood advisories and watches for parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

LACK OF ELECTRICITY RAISES POSSIBILITY OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS

The National Weather Service in Houston warned that with temperatures hitting around 90 degrees (32.2 C) this weekend, people should know the symptoms of heat exhaustion. ”Don’t overdo yourself during the cleanup process,” it said in a post on the social platform X.

The balmy weather is a concern in a region where more than a half-million homes and businesses remained without electricity Saturday morning — down from nearly 1 million, according to PowerOutage.us.

Fierce storms Thursday with winds of up to 100 mph (161 kph) blew out windows downtown, while a tornado touched down near the the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress.

POWER COULD BE OUT FOR WEEKS IN SOME AREAS

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Friday that it could take weeks for power to be restored in some areas.

With multiple transmission towers down, Hidalgo urged patience. Another 21,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, where strong winds and a suspected tornado hit, down from a peak of 215,000.

The Houston Health Department said it would distribute 400 free portable air conditioners to area seniors, people with disabilities and caregivers of disabled children.

WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTION BRINGS HOUSTON TO A STANDSTILL

The widespread destruction brought much of Houston to a standstill. Trees, debris and shattered glass littered the streets. One building’s brick wall was ripped off.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes Friday for more than 400,000 students and government offices were closed. City officials urged people to avoid downtown and stay off roads, many of which were flooded or lined with downed power lines and malfunctioning traffic lights.

Mayor Whitmire warned that police were out in force, including state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting. He said the speed and intensity of the storm caught many off guard.

“Most Houstonians didn’t have time to place themselves out of harm’s way,” Whitmire said at a news conference.

Noelle Delgado pulled up Thursday night to Houston Pets Alive, the animal rescue organization where she is executive director to find the dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — were uninjured, but the awning had been ripped off, the sign was mangled and water was leaking inside. She hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

“I could definitely tell that this storm was a little different,” she said. “It felt terrifying.”

Yesenia Guzmán worried whether she would get paid with the power still out at the restaurant where she works in the Houston suburb of Katy.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she said.DISASTER DECLARATION PAVES THE WAY FOR AID

Whitmire signed a disaster declaration, which paves the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance. President Joe Biden also issued a disaster declaration for seven counties in Texas, including Harris, over severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes and flooding since April 26. His action makes federal funding available to people affected by the storms.

Emergency officials in neighboring Montgomery County described the damage to transmission lines as “catastrophic.”

High-voltage transmission towers that were torn apart and downed power lines pose a twofold challenge for the utility company because the damage affected transmission and distribution systems, according to Alexandria von Meier, a power and energy expert who called that a rare thing. Damage to just the distribution system is more typical, von Meier said.

How quickly repairs are made will depend on a variety of factors, including the time it takes to assess the damage, equipment replacement, roadwork access issues and workforce availability. Centerpoint Energy deployed 1,000 employees on Friday and had requested 5,000 more line workers and vegetation professionals.

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