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Some Galveston County residents could be without power for days

GALVESTON

Some Galveston County residents might be without power for days as repair crews clean up after Hurricane Nicholas, energy distribution companies said Tuesday.

For many people, power flickered off late Monday or early Tuesday as winds knocked over poles or blew tree limbs into power lines. And with many downed lines, restoring power to everyone could take through the end of the week, officials said.

By Tuesday afternoon, thousands of customers across Galveston County were without power, including 10,000 in Galveston, 7,600 in Hitchcock and a few thousand in most other mainland communities, according to outage maps.

The outages are caused by wind damage to the distribution system, said Eric Paul, spokesman for Texas-New Mexico Power, which distributes energy to some mainland communities.

“The lines you see around neighborhoods, those were impacted by wind, trees, other things flying around,” Paul said.

Winds in Galveston County reached as high as about 70 mph early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

CenterPoint Energy, which distributes power on the island and to mainland communities, deployed about 3,000 crew members across the region to restore power, spokeswoman Alejandra Diaz said.

The issue is actually getting power to customers, she said.

“Our transmission and substations are performing well,” Diaz said. “There are downed power lines and damage to distribution equipment. We were expecting a tropical storm with flooding being the biggest threat, and we got a hurricane with strong winds.”

There isn’t much the company could have done to protect power lines from wind, she said.

Diaz wasn’t sure why some residents might have had short, repeated outages overnight. But she guessed the system was automatically trying to bring homes back online when power tripped off.

Exactly when the power will return is hard to tell until crews finish a full assessment of the damaged equipment, which could take until Wednesday morning, Diaz said.

The lack of power, for some, has become the bigger issue than any wind or water damage.

Island resident Steve Carter fared well in terms of water and wind damage at his Pointe West home, he said.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Carter said.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, he still was without power, and so were all his neighbors whose West End homes he was checking on, he said.

Carter just moved into his home full time in July, so he wasn’t in Galveston for the February winter storm, when power was out for days. But he doesn’t want a repeat of the freeze, he said.

“I certainly don’t think it is as bad as the winter storm was,” Carter said. “But I don’t think we want to be out of power for too awful long.”

The standard guidance for power restoration after a Category 1 storm is five to seven days, but City Manager Brian Maxwell doesn’t think it will take that long, he said.

“I think definitely the headline story of this whole thing is going to be the power,” Maxwell said.

Unlike the February winter storm, which affected millions of Texans, many parts of the county do have power so residents can find food, fuel and other essentials, he said.

“Of bigger concern to me would be that the entire electrical resources community is stretched pretty thin considering what’s going on in Louisiana and now here,” Maxwell said.

Hurricane Ida devastated eastern Louisiana communities two weeks ago and crews still are working on repairs in that area, he said.

Many West End residents didn’t have power Tuesday, District 6 Councilwoman Marie Robb, who represents the West End, said.

“We have pocket outages that are being caused by transformers that have actually fallen off poles or poles that are fallen,” Robb said. “Although they said it was going to be a rain event, it really was a wind event.”

Texas-New Mexico warned that some customers might not have power until Friday, Paul said.

“An outage could affect one customer or it could affect 1,500 customers,” Paul said. “It can take as much time to get 1,500 people back on as it does five.”

Once crews repair a main line, some customers might find their power is still out if a line closer to their home was down, he said.

“There could be additional outages downstream that we don’t even know about,” Paul said. “It doesn’t do any good to fix the water hose if the hose isn’t connected to the house.”

Paul urged people to use caution around downed power lines to avoid electrocution.


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Tropical Storm Nicholas slows, dumps rain

SURFSIDE BEACH

Tropical Storm Nicholas slowed to a crawl over southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana on Tuesday after blowing ashore as a hurricane, knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses and dumping more than a foot of rain along the same area swamped by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Nicholas could potentially stall over storm-battered Louisiana and bring life-threatening floods across the Deep South over the coming days, forecasters said.

Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm. It was about 50 miles east of Houston, with maximum winds of 40 mph as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. However, weather radar showed the heaviest rain Tuesday afternoon was over southwestern Louisiana, well east of the storm center.

The storm is moving east-northeast at 6 mph. A tropical storm warning remained in effect from High Island to Cameron, Louisiana. The National Hurricane Center said the storm may continue to slow and even stall, and although its winds will gradually subside, heavy rainfall and a significant flash flood risk will continue along the Gulf Coast for the next couple days.

Galveston saw nearly 14 inches of rain from Nicholas, the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, while Houston reported more than 6 inches of rain. That’s a fraction of what fell during Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain in southeast Texas over a four-day period.

In the small coastal town of Surfside Beach about 65 miles south of Houston, Kirk Klaus, 59, and his wife Monica Klaus, 62, rode out the storm in their two-bedroom home, which sits about 6 to 8 feet above the ground on stilts.

“It was bad. I won’t ever do it again,” Kirk Klaus said.

He said it rained all day on Monday and, as the night progressed, the rainfall and winds got worse.

Sometime around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the strong winds blew out two of his home’s windows, letting in rain and forcing the couple to continually mop their floors. Klaus said the rainfall and winds created a storm surge of about 2 feet in front of his home.

“It looked like a river out here,” he said.

Nearby, Andrew Connor, 33, of Conroe, had not been following the news at his family’s rented Surfside Beach vacation house and was unaware of the storm’s approach until it struck. The storm surge surrounded the beach house with water, prompting Connor to consider using surfboards to take his wife and six children to higher ground if the house flooded.

The sea never made its way through the door, but it did flood the family sport utility vehicle, Connor said.


A gas pump is crushed at the Circle K Valero Corner Store, 2501 25th Ave. N in Texas City, after winds from Hurricane Nicholas blew down the gas pump awning Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.


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Galveston County issues collective sigh of relief as Nicholas fades away

A day after Hurricane Nicholas blew through the area, bringing with it high wind, rain and fears of flooding, few areas in the county reported serious water damage.

Most of the damage was limited to widespread power outages, street flooding and downed trees, signs awnings and mangled buildings. The storm also mauled some buildings under construction.

In the northern part of the county, League City and Friendswood had no reports of flooded houses, a relief for officials and residents of those cities still recovering from catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

In League City, where 8,000 houses were flooded during Harvey, there were no reports of flooded houses despite the rising water in Clear Creek, Magnolia Creek and the surrounding bayous, Mayor Pat Hallisey said.

“I can’t even tell you what a relief that is,” he said.

Nicholas, which started as a tropical storm, grew into a hurricane at about 10 p.m. Monday. It brought significantly less rain but higher winds than forecast. Only about 5 inches to 9 inches of rain were measured on the mainland, and the island received about 4, according to the National Weather Service. In contrast, Harvey brought about 50 inches in some areas.

Most cities reported more damage from the high winds than flooding. Winds of more than 60 mph were reported in some areas, and trees and power lines throughout the county were knocked down, causing power outages.

“What caught us a little by surprise was the speed of the winds,” Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said. “They were a little heavier with more force than we thought.”

THE ABSENCE OF FLOODING

Hallisey credited the lack of flooding in League City to the drainage improvement projects that have been underway since Harvey. The projects were funded mainly by a $145 million general obligation bond voters approved in 2019.

Although Nicholas brought much less rain than Harvey, the lack of flooding proved the improvements over the past four years have helped, Hallisey said.

“I give all the credit to our city team that’s stayed on that,” he said.

Drainage improvement projects also prevented widespread flooding in Kemah, particularly in the Bay View area, Mayor Carl Joiner said.

“For the first time, that area drained well,” he said.

In Texas City, there were no reports of flooding, Bruce Clawson, emergency management and homeland security director for Texas City, said. Crews had pumped out the city’s canals in anticipation of large amounts of water, he said.

“We fared fairly well,” he said. “No flooding.”

Hitchcock also had very little flooding, Mayor Chris Armacost said. Although half the city lost power during the storm, most of it had been restored Monday, he said.

“I would say we were fortunate as we seem to have fared better than most,” he said.

But not all areas escaped the flooding.Palms RV Park, at 2705 Dickinson Ave. in Dickinson, sustained nearly a foot of water in some parts, manager Erin Solis said.

“We knew it was a pretty decent chance especially with all the ditches around us,” she said.

The water was about three concrete blocks high, meaning most of the RVs didn’t sustain damage, but people’s belongings were floating in the area, she said. The park planned to bring out a pump to try to remove the water that remained.

DAMAGE FROM WINDS

Most of the damage in the area came from the wind. Wind speeds topped 60 mph in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

Most of the damage in La Marque came from felled trees and downed power lines, which crews were working to repair Tuesday morning, La Marque Mayor Keith Bell said.

In Santa Fe, most of the damage also came from power lines and trees that had been knocked down, Community Services Director Stacey Baker said.

“Anytime we get a good, hard rain, that’s just a given,” she said. “Especially since it’s been kind of wet and they tend to uproot when it gets saturated like that.”

Crews had been out Monday night into Tuesday morning responding to calls, Baker said.

Downed trees are a natural part of a hurricane, Clawson of Texas City said. The area had more power outages than initially anticipated, and at one point, 8,000 residents had been without power, he said.

“It was a heck of a night,” he said. “The wind really blew.”

A REAL STINK

Elad Amsalem, owner of Beach Break Surf Shop, 2402 Ave. Q, walked into his shop Tuesday morning to find two broken windows.

Glass shards were scattered on the floor and covered the wet T-shirts on the shelves. Displays of keychains and souvenirs were toppled over on the ground and receipts were scattered on the floor, blown by the wind.

“I didn’t think it would be that crazy,” Amsalem said.

Amsalem speculated a sign had blown off a nearby business and crashed into the window.

He has been in business for almost 30 years and had no damage during Hurricane Ike in 2008 or Harvey in 2017, he said.

As he spoke with The Daily News, Amsalem found a few leaks in the back room.

“All my stuff’s going to get wet,” he said as he pulled boxes out of the way. “It’s all T-shirts. It’s probably going to stink.”

HIT BY HIGH WATER

Despite the absence of heavy flooding, some coastal areas were hit by the storm surge. A storm-surge warning, which means there is a danger of life-threatening flooding within 36 hours, had been in place for Galveston Bay from Monday night into Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Surges peaked at 5 feet during the storm, according to the weather service.

Kemah saw the most damage from the storm surges. One of the smaller buildings at the Kemah Boardwalk was destroyed, and there was a lot of pier damage in the city, Joiner said.

“The waves were just fierce last night,” he said.

One pier was destroyed by the rising water from the storm at Seaside Inn, 503 Bay Ave., owner Matt Wiggins said.

“We’re very lucky to have beautiful waterfront property that we pay high taxes for,” he said. “But this is one of the pains of it that you have to go fix occasionally.”

Multiple properties owned by Wiggins were damaged in the storm, some with interior damage caused by wind-blown water, he said. He expects repairs to take two to three weeks.

“This is an indication that God is still in charge and you can’t mess with Mother Nature,” he said.

LESS DAMAGE THAN EXPECTED

Overall, city officials expressed relief the damage around the county had not been worse.

“No loss of homes, which makes us really happy,” Hallisey said. “I hope it makes our citizens happy.”

Residents in Galveston also were relieved Tuesday. Although there was flooding in the usual low-lying areas, damage was relatively light, Brown said.

“I’m relieved it wasn’t more than it was,” Michael Ragsdale, owner of Big House Antiques, 2212 Mechanic St., said.

Ragsdale was helping retrieve a sign that blew away from a neighboring business, Nautical Antiques & Tropical Decor.

Joiner from Kemah also was relieved that the damage in the small town of 2,000 had not been worse.

“For what we went through, we have a sigh of relief,” he said.

Keri Heath contributed to this report.


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Wind, not rain, was Hurricane Nicholas' calling card in Galveston County

GALVESTON

In the hours leading up to Hurricane Nicholas’ arrival, forecasters and local officials warned people to prepare for a tropical storm — and to especially prepare for torrential rains and flooding.

But when Nicholas finally arrived in Galveston County early Tuesday morning, it wasn’t rain that caused the most damage.

The National Weather Service in League City reported winds as strong as 68 mph in Galveston County because of Nicholas. The strong wind swept across the island for hours, ripping down power lines, knocking over fences and signs and keeping restless residents from getting much sleep.

As for the rain, not much came. The weather service said from 4 inches to 9 inches fell on the county, with more rain occurring at points north.

The amount was a far cry from what county officials were warning about in the 48 hours before the storm, when they feared that as much as 20 inches could fall on coastal areas in a matter of hours. As a sign of how serious the threat was, the county positioned dozens of high-water rescue teams around the area.

None of those rescue crews were needed.

Nicholas ended up being less rainy and more windy, because it stayed on an eastern track longer than expected, said Tim Cady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“The main thing that happened was that the center of circulation took a slight eastward track prior to making landfall around Matagorda Bay,” Cady said. “That gave it some more time over water, and when a storm has more time over water, it’s going to have more time to intensify.”

The initial forecast wasn’t necessarily wrong, Cady said.

All day Monday, the weather service warned Nicholas could intensify to become a hurricane and bring the types of strong winds that come with it.

“There was always a possibility we were going to see some higher wind gusts with this storm,” Cady said. “There was a lot of uncertainty with that track.”

Galveston County officials said they had no criticisms of the weather service’s forecast.

“The weather service did an outstanding job,” said Tyler Drummond, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry’s chief of staff. “We kind of knew what we were going to be dealing with last night.”

If there’s one thing people should take from the storm, it’s that things can change quickly, Cady said.

“There are reason we tell people that when there are hazards in their area, they have to pay attention to the latest information,” Cady said. “Things can change and they do change.”


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COVID-19 cases climbing, wiping out months of progress

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the United States have climbed back to levels not seen since last winter, erasing months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for his sweeping new vaccination requirements.

The cases — driven by the delta variant combined with resistance among some Americans to getting the vaccine — are concentrated mostly in the South.

While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are soaring in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now back in school, loose mask restrictions and low vaccination levels.

The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like January’s infection peak: Surgeries canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or over capacity in Texas.

The deteriorating picture nine months into the nation’s vaccination drive has angered and frustrated medical professionals who see the heartbreak as preventable. The vast majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated, in what has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.

“The problem now is we have been trying to educate based on science, but I think most of the education that is happening now is based on tragedy, personal tragedy,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

In Kentucky, 70 percent of the state’s hospitals — 66 of 96 — are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level yet during the pandemic, the governor said.

“Our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” said Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.

The United States is averaging over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels since early March and late January. And both figures have been on the rise over the past two weeks.

The country is still well below the terrifying peaks reached in January, when it was averaging about 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day.

The United States is dispensing about 900,000 vaccinations per day, down from a high of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. On Friday, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the United States should begin giving booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine.

On a positive note, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 appears to be leveling off or even declining at around 90,000, or about where things stood in February.


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