Culture

Pressure mounts on power company as Houston sweats, waits


By Juan Lozano and Jim Vertuno | Associated Press

HOUSTON — Pressure mounted Wednesday on Houston’s power utility as millions of residents still had no power nearly three days after Hurricane Beryl made landfall, amid questions over how a city that is all too familiar with destructive weather was unable to better withstand a Category 1 storm.

With frustration growing as people searched for places to cool off, fuel up and grab a bite to eat, a CenterPoint Energy executive faced a barrage from city leaders who wanted to know it was taking so long to get the lights back on again.

CenterPoint “needs to a do a better job” restoring power, Mayor John Whitmire said. “That’s the consensus of Houstonians. That’s mine.”

Beryl came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest type, but has has been blamed for at least seven U.S. deaths — one in Louisiana and six in Texas. Earlier, 11 died in the Caribbean.

The storm’s lingering impact for many in Texas, however, was the wallop to the power supply that left much of the nation’s fourth-largest city sweltering days later in hot and humid conditions that the National Weather Service deemed potentially dangerous.

“Maybe they thought it wasn’t going to be so bad, but it’s had a tremendous effect. They needed to be better prepared,” construction worker Carlos Rodriguez, 39, said as he gathered apples, oranges and ready-to-eat meal packs at a food distribution center. His family, with two daughters ages 3 and 7, was struggling, he said.

“We have no power, we’re going to bed late and I’m using a fan made out of a piece of cardboard to give my kids some relief,” Rodriguez said.

Power outages peaked at 2.7 million customers after the storm made landfall Monday, according to PowerOutage.us.

As of late Wednesday afternoon there were 1.6 million customers without power in the Houston area, including 1.3 million CenterPoint customers.

Brad Tutunjian, the CenterPoint vice president for regulatory policy, who faced pointed questions from the City Council, defended the company’s response. He said more than 1 million customers had their power restored by Wednesday morning, although the company’s online tracker put the figure at just under a million at the time.

“To me, I think that’s a monumental number right there,” Tutunjian said.

The company acknowledged that most of the 12,000 workers it brought in to help the recovery were not in the Houston area when the storm arrived. Initial forecasts had the storm blowing ashore much farther south along the Gulf Coast, near the Texas-Mexico border, before it headed toward Houston.

CenterPoint would not ask third-party workers from other companies and municipalities to pre-position and “ride out” the storm “because that is not safe,” Tutunjian said. Instead they are asked to be as close as possible to respond after the storm moves through.

One major difficulty with Beryl was restoring power knocked out by fallen trees and branches, Tutunjian said.

“When we have storms such as this, with the tree completely coming down … taking out our lines and our poles, that’s where all …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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