HOUSTON (CN) — With wind gusts approaching 100 mph, Tropical Storm Nicholas knocked out power to more than 415,000 homes across southeast Texas early Tuesday and swelled creeks beyond their banks in areas where it has dumped 14 inches of rain.
Strengthened by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Nicholas grew into a Category 1 hurricane late Monday before making landfall near Matagorda, Texas, pushing up a storm surge that engulfed beachfront roads and washed up under homes built on beams more than 10 feet off the ground due to the yearly threat of hurricanes.
Officials in Matagorda County, which is about halfway between Corpus Christi and Houston, warned its 36,000 residents not to leave their homes early Tuesday.
“Please stay indoors, we have power poles down along with the wires, trees are down. Please do not drive around. Leave the road way open for first responders and the power companies, they are assessing the damages and planning repairs,” the Matagorda County Emergency Operation Center said.
Though Nicholas was downgraded to a tropical storm as its winds diminished after it blew onshore, they were strong enough to topple awning piers at a gas station in Texas City, just north of Galveston.
The 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, Nicholas was lumbering north-northeast at 10 mph approaching Houston around 7 a.m. Tuesday.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a warning early Tuesday that life-threatening floods are expected across the Deep South over the next couple days.
The streets were deserted early Tuesday in Galveston, where business owners in the island city laid out sandbags in front of their shops Monday and moved merchandise up off the ground.
Nicholas has dropped more than 14 inches of rain in Galveston, the most of any city in the Houston area.
Schools across the region sent students home early Monday and canceled classes Tuesday, while court officials called off jury service and Houston’s two major airports canceled dozens of flights from Monday afternoon until 11 a.m. Tuesday.
With memories of Hurricane Harvey – which dumped a record-setting 52 inches of rain in some areas of Greater Houston in 2017, flooded more than 150,000 homes and left 68 people dead – fresh in their minds, Houstonians appeared to be heeding officials’ warnings to stay off the roads as there were no reports early Tuesday of firefighters having to rescue people who had driven into high water from their vehicles.
As of Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., there have been no reported deaths from Nicholas.
After several people died from inhaling carbon monoxide during the prolonged power outages in February caused by Winter Storm Uri, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña warned residents as Nicholas approached to safely use their generators after they lose power.
“In addition to the rain, we are expecting significant wind. If we have power outages and you are using generators, please ensure the generators are at least 20 feet from your home. And the exhaust is not going into your home. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, but it is lethal even in small amounts,” he said.
A year after Harvey, Houston revised construction rules requiring all new structures in areas prone to flooding to be built higher off the ground than previous standards.
With Nicholas bearing down on Texas, Mayor Sylvester Turner tried to assure Houstonians the city had finished projects to reduce the risk of flooding, investing $780 million in infrastructure repairs.
“This is more than rebuilding the properties that were destroyed … It’s improving local drainage infrastructure, creating new regional detention areas and investing more than $500 million in capital improvement projects that focus on drainage,” Turner wrote in a column published Sunday in the Houston Chronicle.
More than 94,000 people in Louisiana are still without power two weeks after Hurricane Ida brought widespread devastation, and Nicholas’ predicted path does not bode well for the state’s storm-weary residents.
The National Weather Service in New Orleans is warning of heavy rainfall in Louisiana from Tuesday to Wednesday night, with some areas predicted to get up to 10 inches of rain.
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