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Frustration continues in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Residents of Houston, Texas, are trying to recover after Hurricane Beryl tore through the city.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It knocked out electricity to more than 2 million homes and businesses and caused widespread damage. That's all while the region continues to bake under blistering heat, and the storm killed at least nine people and injured many more.

MARTÍNEZ: Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media has been right in the thick of it all. Lucio, what have you been seeing out there?

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Yeah, well, I've been out in the last few days, and I can tell you, I've seen a lot of fallen trees, downed power lines, structural damage to a lot of buildings. And it's also incredibly hot right now, and a lack of electricity means lots of people don't have AC. Nearly a million people are still without power at the moment. This comes about two months after another deadly storm battered the Houston area and left a million people in the dark. A lot of folks were still recovering from that previous storm when Beryl came through, unfortunately.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Now, you've been speaking to residents in Houston. What are you hearing from them?

VASQUEZ: I've been hearing a lot of frustration, most of which specifically directed at the city's main utility company, CenterPoint Energy. Many residents have questioned why so many people lost power and why it's taking so long for the power to be restored. I spoke with a woman named Earnestine Sykes yesterday. She was charging her phone inside of a community center packed with people going through the same thing she was. Her power had been out since Monday morning, and yesterday was her second day at this community center, so she was pretty frustrated by the ordeal.

EARNESTINE SYKES: And they say, oh, we're so sorry for the inconvenience. Well, if you're sorry, do something about it. Don't let it keep happening. It's happening too often. If they're sorry, do something about it. Don't apologize to me no more.

VASQUEZ: And again, this level of frustration has been a through line in many conversations I've had with people over these last few days.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Aside from powering cell phones, I mean, medications that need to be cold aren't being kept cold because of a lack of power. Now, what's the overall emergency response been like there?

VASQUEZ: Well, at the local level, we've seen a lot of cooling centers and distribution sites open up across the city and county. At the federal level, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration that'll unlock federal resources for the region, but here in Houston at the moment, there's stress in Houston's hospital system. It's currently overwhelmed. Authorities are getting a lot of calls for carbon monoxide poisoning, as people are using generators inside their homes. And there's other storm-related injuries as well, like cuts and bruises. Houston Mayor John Whitmire admits the city needs to do better.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN WHITMIRE: During a crisis, it exposes the city's lack of maintenance in infrastructure and city services. We're going to correct that going forward.

VASQUEZ: It's worth noting, CenterPoint says their new standard is to place power lines underground, but most of Houston's lines are still above ground, so to achieve that new standard will take time and likely cost the city a lot of money.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Short term, though, any indication as to when the power might be fully restored?

VASQUEZ: You know, that's a great question, and it's a question that I think is on everyone's mind right now, right? I mean, CenterPoint has released a map showing the areas that are currently being assessed and which areas are still in need of repair. Missing, though, is when the power will be restored. The company's crews have been working to get the lights back on since Monday afternoon. Of the 2 million that lost power, about half are still in the dark.

MARTÍNEZ: Really quick, Lucio, I mean, you're reporting from Houston, but you're there. How are you holding up?

VASQUEZ: You know, I've been better (laughter). You know, I will say, my power got back earlier than most, and I'm very thankful, but it's been a bit of a whirlwind here in the newsroom, and I'm feeling for a lot of my colleagues, who are still probably in the dark as we're speaking right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, thank you for your reporting. That's reporter Lucio Vasquez, with Houston Public Media. Thanks.

VASQUEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lucio Vasquez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.