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Three dead and millions without power as Tropical Storm Beryl hits Texas
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Three dead and millions without power as Tropical Storm Beryl hits Texas

Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall in south-east Texas on Monday with howling winds and torrential rains, causing the deaths of at least three people, closing oil ports, and knocking out power to more than 2.5 million homes and businesses.

Before making landfall in Texas, the storm had already carved a path through the Caribbean as a category 5 hurricane, where it killed 11 people. It continued on to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula as a category 2, temporarily dropped in intensity to a tropical storm but again strengthened to a hurricane over the weekend.

A 53-year-old man and a 74-year-old woman in the Houston area were killed on Monday in two incidents by trees that fell on their homes. A third person drowned, according to local officials.

The storm, which approached Texas with sustained winds of 75mph (120km/h), was moving north-west at 10mph and made landfall near Matagorda, a coastal town about 95 miles south of Houston, according to the US National Weather Service (NWS).

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.

Oil-refining activity slowed and some production sites were evacuated in the state that is the nation’s biggest producer of US oil and natural gas.

“Life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall is ongoing across portions of Texas. Damaging winds ongoing along the coast, with strong winds moving inland,” the NHC said even as Beryl began to lose strength.

A tornado watch was in place for an area covering more than 7 million people, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The storm is expected to weaken to a tropical storm and then to a depression as it moves inland along eastern Texas, into the Mississippi Valley and then the Ohio Valley.

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

Beryl was forecast to become a post-tropical cyclone on Tuesday and is forecast to hit Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri with heavy rainfall.

Cars submerged in floodwaterView image in fullscreen

The storm was expected to barrel over eastern parts of Texas through the day before moving into the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Ohio Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, the NHC said.

Following warnings that it could be a deadly storm for communities in its path, residents had rushed to board up windows and stock up on fuel and other essential supplies.

Before daybreak, strong gusts and torrential rain lashed cities and towns such as Galveston, Sargent, Lake Jackson and Freeport, television footage showed. By late morning, many fallen trees blocked roads in Houston as the worst of the storm passed, with persisting winds and some road flooding, rendering lanes on major freeways impassable. The city barricaded flooded areas.

In video posted on social media by Houston’s local ABC station, crews using a life jacket and ladder fire truck rescued a man from a truck on a flooded stretch of freeway.

Texas officials said they were concerned that few people heeded warnings to leave before the storm’s arrival.

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

More than 120 counties were under disaster declaration on Sunday after statements from Patrick that Beryl was a “serious threat to Texans”.

Schools said they would close as the storm approached. Airlines canceled more than 1,300 flights, and officials ordered a smattering of evacuations in beach towns. Small businesses in Houston, including package delivery services and chiropractors, delayed openings or were closed on Monday.

More than 2 million homes and businesses in Texas have lost power, according to local utilities and PowerOutage.us data.

Several counties in south-eastern Texas – including Houston, where many US energy companies are headquartered – are under a flash-flood warning as thunderstorms unleashed up to nearly 12in (30 cm) of rain in some areas.

Closures of major oil-shipping ports around Corpus Christi, Galveston and Houston before the storm could disrupt crude oil exports, along with shipments of crude to refineries and motor fuel from the plants. The Corpus Christi Ship Channel has re-opened, while the Port of Houston was projected to resume operations on Tuesday afternoon.

The storm and accompanying power outages come as temperatures around coastal Texas are forecast at above 90F (32C) in the coming days, including heat indices as high as 108F (42C) on Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center has issued frequent updates as the storm approached, after Beryl caused devastation in the Caribbean as the earliest category-5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic on record.

Scientists warned Beryl’s arrival and peak strength are ominous signs in what is expected to be a hyperactive hurricane season.

Workers with mops clear debris from streetView image in fullscreen

Extraordinarily hot sections of the Atlantic Ocean, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, helped supercharge Beryl from a tropical depression into a category 4 storm in just two days, before it strengthened further to a maximum category 5 event.

The Caribbean Sea, the region where Beryl has caused devastation, has already reached peak temperature about three months early, which is “absolutely crazy” according to Brian McNoldy, a climate scientist at the University of Miami.

A hurricane season stretching until November is expected to deliver eight to 13 hurricanes, much more than the usual seven, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Beryl is a worrying omen for the rest of the season,” McNoldy said. “This won’t be the last of these storms.”

According to NOAA, 109 tropical systems have made landfall in Texas since 1850. The most recent was Hurricane Nicholas, a category 1 hurricane, which killed two people and caused $1bn in damage.

Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

Source: theguardian.com