Beryl weakens to tropical storm after sweeping into Texas as Category 1 hurricane

Over 1.5 million homes were left without power

Hurricane Beryl A fallen tree lies over a car, in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl, in Ganado, Texas | AP

Hurricane Beryl swept into Texas early Monday with heavy rains and powerful winds, knocking out power to 1.5 million homes and businesses and flooding streets with fast-rising waters as first responders raced to rescue stranded residents.

Beryl had already cut a deadly path through parts of Mexico and the Caribbean before turning toward Texas. The Category 1 hurricane hit land just before 4 am, then weakened to a tropical storm about five hours later. The National Hurricane Center said damaging winds and flash flooding will continue as Beryl continues pushing inland. At least one death was reported.

High waters quickly began to close streets in storm-weary Houston, which was again under flood warnings after heavy storms in recent months washed out neighbourhoods.

CenterPoint Energy in Houston reported 1.5 million homes and businesses were without power. Flood warnings were in effect across a wide stretch of the Texas coast, where a powerful storm surge pushed water ashore, and further inland as heavy rain continued to fall.

Police in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg urged residents to stay off the roads, reporting that one of its high-water vehicles had been hit by a falling tree while returning from a rescue. Video footage showed heavy street flooding in the barrier island city of Galveston, and Houston was under a flash flood warning for most of the morning as heavy rain continued to soak the city.

In the Texas coastal city of Freeport, Patti Richardson said she was riding out the the storm in her 123-year-old house.

We are sitting in the middle of it. It sounds like we are in a train station, it's that loud and has been about four hours. We're just hoping everything holds together, Richardson said. You can feel the house shaking...It's freaky.

Beryl had weakened to a tropical storm after damaging Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, but became a hurricane again late Sunday. The storm's center hit land about 85 miles (137 km) southwest of Houston with top sustained winds of 80 mph (129 kph).

More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled at Houston's two airports, according to tracking data from FlightAware.

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean on its way to Texas. The storm ripped off doors, windows and roofs with devastating winds and storm surge fuelled by the Atlantic's record warmth.

Three times during its one week of life, Beryl has gained 35 mph (56 kph) in wind speed in 24 hours or less, the official weather service definition of rapid intensification.

Beryl's explosive growth into an unprecedented early whopper of a storm indicates the hot water of the Atlantic and Caribbean and what the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the rest of the storm season, experts said.

Texas officials warned people along the entire coastline to prepare for possible flooding, heavy rain and wind. Several coastal counties called for voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas. Local officials also banned beach camping and urged tourists travelling on the Fourth of July holiday weekend to move recreational vehicles from coastal parks.

Tornadoes and flash flooding were also possible in eastern Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the hurricane centre said.

The hurricane warning extended from Baffin Bay, south of Corpus Christi, to Sargent, south of Houston.

Potential storm surges between 4 and 7 feet (1 and 2 metres) above ground level were forecast around Matagorda. The warnings extended to the same coastal areas where Hurricane Harvey came ashore in 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane, far more powerful than Beryl.

In Louisiana, heavy bands of rain are expected all day Monday and the risk is going to be for that heavy rainfall and potential for flash flooding, National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones said in a Monday morning Facebook Live briefing.

Meteorologists in Louisiana are watching for lingering rainbands, which could drop copious amounts of rain wherever they materialise, as well as quick, spin-up tornadoes, said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

It's just a matter of exactly where that's going to be, Jones said. That's very difficult to predict more than maybe an hour or so in advance.

People on the Texas coast boarded up windows and left beach towns under an evacuation order. Many residents and business owners took the typical storm precautions but also expressed uncertainty about the storm's intensity.

In Port Lavaca, Jimmy May fastened plywood over the windows of his electrical supply company and said he wasn't concerned about the possible storm surge. He recalled his business had escaped flooding in a previous hurricane that brought a 20-foot (6-metre) storm surge.

In town, you know, if you're in the low-lying areas, obviously, you need to get out of there, he said.

The White House said Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had sent emergency responders, search-and-rescue teams, bottled water and other resources along the coast.

Beryl battered Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane last week, toppling trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Before hitting Mexico, Beryl wrought destruction in Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Three people were reported dead in Grenada, three in St Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela and two in Jamaica. 

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