WEATHER

Power Slowly Returns As Greater Houston Begins Nicholas Cleanup

Wind speeds reached 50 mph in Galveston after the storm made landfall along Matagorda Bay just after midnight, before slowly travelling Northeast.

Damage to the 61st Street fishing pier in Galveston from Nicholas, on Sept. 14, 2021.

Updated 8:48 a.m. CDT Tuesday

Power was restored to nearly all CenterPoint Energy customers by Wednesday morning in the wake of Nicholas, which moved through Greater Houston and has since been downgraded to a tropical depression.

As of 8:46 a.m. Wednesday, just over 81,000 customers were still without power across the region, from Spring down to Galveston Island, stretching east to west from Sealy to Mont Belvieu. That number was as high as 460,000 early Tuesday morning.

Nicholas brought wind speeds ranging from 44 mph in Houston to 50 mph in Galveston at one point, and 75 mph further southwest near Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay.

About 150,000 homes were without power in Houston alone Tuesday morning, according to Houston Emergency Management Coordinator Thomas Munoz.

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CenterPoint did not provide a timeline for full power restoration, but preliminary damage assessments suggested a quicker recovery than anticipated, according to Francisco Sanchez with the Harris County Office of Emergency Management.

“Not a whole lot of downed trees, but there are lots of downed limbs and branches,” Sanchez said. “So what that tells us is the restoration should go a lot smoother. It's not like a Louisiana situation where you had the huge towers go down.”

Nicholas knocked down trees and left debris in its wake in Galveston on Sept. 14, 2021.

Texas’ grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, reduced planned maintenance outages in areas expected to be hardest hit by the storm, and instructed power companies to use emergency procedures in preparation.

Parts of Houston saw more than 6-and-a-half inches of rain, but further south and southeast, Nicholas made its presence felt. Galveston was hit with nearly 14 inches of rain by 5 a.m., and strong winds triggered a storm surge warning, while Pasadena, League City and Baytown were all under a flash flood warning early Tuesday.

Galveston Island saw flooding in the city's historic center, and strong winds took down trees and traffic signs. By Tuesday afternoon, a large part of the island had its power knocked out.

Many residents, like Jackson Almon, said they had lived through much more devastating storms.

"I think the winds were a little higher than I expected,” Almon said. “I think the island has seen way worse, so I think everybody is just happy that they walked out and the damage was minimal compared to what's come through here."

Jovany Vieyra, of Baytown, woke up around 2 a.m. Tuesday expecting to go to work. Instead, he was met by howling winds and the sound of branches breaking off of trees.

Vieyra didn’t lose power, and his home wasn’t damaged, but he stayed up worried through the morning.

“I hope we get through it,” Vieyra said. “I don’t want it to flood, honestly. I’m tired of the flooding.”

Others were less worried. Rey Sandoval, also from Baytown, said he usually leaves the area during storms. But this time he decided to stay.

“It could have been worse, but I mean it was something,” he said. “You just have no idea. Mother Nature does whatever it does.”

By Tuesday afternoon, he was already planning to take out his boat, which he just got back from a repair shop.

Nicholas made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just after midnight Tuesday near Matagorda Bay, before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it slowly drifted northeast. Local officials asked Houston-area residents to stay indoors as the storm continued to move through the region.

The rain is expected to be pushed out of the area by Tuesday afternoon.

The storm knocked down powerlines in parts of Harris County and caused damage to some structures. But the region avoided many of the worst outcomes predicted Monday.

Still, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the storm response helped make the region more prepared for worse weather in the future.

“We always have to rehearse this in some ways,” Hidalgo said. “Hurricanes, weather, tropical storms, heavy rain, all of this is part and parcel of living in this region.”

All Harris County offices and courts will remain closed through Tuesday, including all COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, Hidalgo said. Those COVID sites will reopen Wednesday.

A gas station at Main and Quitman streets damaged by heavy winds from Nicholas, Sept. 14, 2021.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday said he hoped to return the city to full operation by Tuesday.

"We were blessed last night,” Turner said. “I'm not going to say lucky. The lord just smiled on the city of Houston last night. We needed a break.”

In total, about 100 city traffic lights were out Tuesday due to power outages, according to Houston Public Works.

The Houston Fire Department received one call for a high water evacuation and five for carbon monoxide, but there were no injuries, according to Chief Sam Peña.

Houston airports reported 394 total cancellations between Monday and Tuesday morning. Both Hobby and Bush airports were expected to return to full operation by 3 p.m., according to Turner.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Monday afternoon, asking the 17 counties affected by the storm to pay close attention to updates from local officials.

The governor also announced that Texas Task Force One — a FEMA search and rescue team — deployed at least six swiftwater boat squads, two water group supervisors and four helicopter squads in order to assist with any rescue and relief operations.

A tree lays ripped from the ground in Baytown in the wake of Nicholas, Sept. 14, 2021.

The Houston area — along with the rest of Southeast Texas — began preparing early Monday morning, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. The city decreased Lake Houston’s water level to minimize the potential for flooding, lowering the lake by more than 41 feet.

The city also deployed at least 43 barricades throughout the city in an attempt to reduce flooding, and urged residents to stay off the roads.

METRO light rail and local bus services were set to resume Tuesday morning as early as 8 a.m. on the city’s busiest routes, but METRO Park & Ride remains out of service. The agency added that riders should expect delays.

Only essential city employees are expected to work on Tuesday, with non-essential staff working remotely, Turner said.

Trash pickup was also suspended for Tuesday and will resume on Wednesday. Turner added that the city’s municipal courts would be closed Tuesday and reopen on Wednesday.

Gabe Casares, who leads Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office of People with Disabilities, said his office will rely on the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry to help people with disabilities weather the storm.

"We'll be using the information that is in the STEAR data to help us make those decisions and help us account for people with disabilities, that may have those access and functional needs, that may need to be evacuated with a hospital chair or power wheel chair,” Casares said.

The Harris Health System closed its outpatient clinics at 3 p.m. Monday in preparation for the storm, and will remain closed through Tuesday. Clinics will resume regularly scheduled appointments at noon on Wednesday.

LBJ and Ben Taub hospitals, as well as the health system's emergency centers, will remain open.

Storm Debris in Nassau Bay
Debris from storm surge during Nicholas is seen in Howard L. Ward Park in Nassau Bay, Sept. 14, 2021.

Red Cross Mobilizes

The Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast region had already begun preparations for the storm’s landfall Monday, and was planning to open shelters along the Gulf Coast.

It’s not immediately clear how quickly the storm will pass through the area or how much if any damage it will inflict on the area, though localized flooding is expected across Houston and surrounding areas. That uncertainty makes it difficult to gauge how many shelters will be needed, according to Red Cross regional spokesperson Jennifer Sparks.

“It really will depend on the damage and where that damage actually is,” Sparks said. “So we're going to be working with state and local officials. We're going to be very flexible and be present where the need is greatest.”

Open locations will be available on RedCross.org, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or by downloading the Red Cross app.

Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County Road and Bridge workers cleared debris from roadways throughout the night, and repairs are now underway as the winds continue to subside.

The county remains under a flash flood watch until Wednesday, and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management activated its emergency operations center Monday morning.

County Judge KP George urged drivers to use caution on the roadways Tuesday morning, and encouraged all residents to have a plan in place.

On Monday, Sheriff Eric Fagan issued a plea to motorists to avoid driving through water and avoid areas prone to flooding, including FM 1093 and Highway 99, Grand Parkway and Highway 90, and Highway 59 at Williams Parkway.

The sheriff added that extra personnel will be on hand to help vehicles avoid flooded areas.

Many school districts, after-school programs and community centers in Houston closed Monday evening through at least Tuesday.

Deloyd Parker, who made the call to close the SHAPE community center in the Third Ward by early Monday afternoon, said his community has dealt with a lot in recent weeks.

“The flood, the rain, the influx of brothers and sisters we have coming from Louisiana who need help,” Parker said. “I mean we’re dealing with so many issues right now, we just have to keep our sanity, be rational and be helpful to one another.”

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Paul DeBenedetto

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Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

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Florian Martin is the News 88.7 business reporter and also covers criminal justice, guns and shootings.Florian's stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of...

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