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Texas power outages hinder Hurricane Beryl recovery

REUTERS/RICH MATTHEWS / JULY 8 
                                Employees Check hallways in the Hilton Galveston island resort after the hotel lost power as Hurricane Beryl arrived in Galveston, Texas.
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REUTERS/RICH MATTHEWS / JULY 8

Employees Check hallways in the Hilton Galveston island resort after the hotel lost power as Hurricane Beryl arrived in Galveston, Texas.

HOUSTON >> About 1.5 million customers remained without power in Texas on Wednesday, two days after Hurricane Beryl raked the state, as progress to restore electricity was slow, hampering efforts to quickly restart critical oil infrastructure.

The storm made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Monday near the coastal town of Matagorda, about 100 miles (160 km) from Houston, lashing Texas with heavy winds that knocked down power lines and damaged property.

“When you don’t have power, when it’s pitch black at night, when it’s as hot as 80 (degrees Fahrenheit/26.6 C) during the day, and you don’t have access to food you normally have, it’s a miserable situation,” Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told a press conference on Wednesday in Matagorda.

About 1.3 million of the 1.5 million houses and businesses without power are customers of CenterPoint Energy, the state’s largest provider.

CenterPoint said on Wednesday it had restored power to some 980,000 customers in the previous 24 hours, adding that it would reach 1 million re-established customers by the end of the day.

In a letter to CenterPoint on Wednesday, congresswoman Sylvia Garcia said the firm’s inability to restore power more quickly was creating a public health crisis. “Hospitals are now unable to send patients home where they lack power for medical equipment or an appropriately cool environment for their conditions.”

Among Texas’ most affected zones by wind damage and lack of power were cities from Lake Jackson and Galveston on the coast to Houston, including energy hubs Freeport and Texas City, according to officials and CenterPoint’s outages map.

Chemical manufacturer Olin declared force majeure over shipping of some product and aromatics, saying that Beryl had caused damage to its Freeport facilities, impacting production and access to power, raw materials, and feedstocks.

“The duration of this disruption is uncertain,” it said in a statement.

Also in that area, Freeport LNG, the second largest U.S. liquefied natural gas terminal, was preparing to resume processing by Thursday, two sources close to the matter said, as power was being restored. But LNG exports from the terminal are not expected to restart until the port, which is operating under restrictions, fully reopens for vessel traffic.

A spokesperson for Freeport LNG told Reuters the company “intends to resume liquefaction when post-storm assessments are complete and it is safe to do so.”

PORTS, PLATFORMS REOPENING

Refineries, offshore production sites and ports saw limited damage and were largely returning to normal operations.

Two refineries in Texas City, Texas, one operated by Marathon Petroleum and the other by Valero Energy Corp , were in operation on Wednesday morning, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

The Port of Freeport said on Wednesday the navigation channel had reopened to vessels with drafts up to 36 feet (10 meters). The port, which moved its first ship, added that survey would determine when the channel would be cleared for operations without restrictions.

“All Port Freeport entrance gates have resumed normal operating hours. Utility crews are on-site making repairs to downed power lines,” it said.

The Port of Houston said its eight public terminals had resumed operations on Tuesday for vessel operations, and on Wednesday returned to normal start times for gate operations.

Houston Pilots, which provides services to ships entering or departing the port, moved 14 ships inbound on Tuesday and was expecting 25 inbound and five outbound vessels on Wednesday.

At the Port of Galveston, cruise ships began to sail while cargo operations were expected to resume on Wednesday. The port, which maintains draft restrictions for vessels, experienced relatively minor damage and some power outages, said Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director. “Power remains out for areas of the port and the city. Port staff is working closely with the city to get power fully restored,” the ports said on a social media update.

U.S. oil producer Chevron said on Wednesday that output from its operated Gulf of Mexico assets remained at normal levels.

DAMAGES MOUNTING

Reinsurance broker Gallagher Re estimated that U.S. economic losses from Beryl would be at least $1 billion as damage assessments continue. Weather forecasting firm AccuWeather issued a preliminary estimate of $28 billion to $32 billion in U.S. damage and economic loss.

State officials promised cooling stations, hospital beds and a plan to remove debris. President Joe Biden on Tuesday approved a major disaster declaration for Beryl.

With local stores running out of power generators for sale, many Texans resorted to their trucks to power appliances and small equipment at home.

A Ford Motor spokesman said the automaker saw a 1,300% increase from customers in the Houston region generating at least 1 kilowatt of power with their built-in F-150 pickup truck mobile generators.

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