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Many Houstonians will continue to be without power for days or even weeks in the wake of Thursday’s freakishly strong storm that pummeled the Houston area.

Fierce winds killed at least seven people and left nearly 900,000 without power as of Thursday night. Officials say it’s unclear when electricity will fully return for all Houstonians, and they should prepare for long power outages. 

Here are answers to your questions about the wide-scale outage in the Houston area and resources where you can find help:

How to handle a long power outage in Houston

Unplug all appliances in case a surge damages them when power returns. The Public Utility Commission of Texas recommends leaving a single lamp on to help you know when power has been restored.

Be sure to grab any potential light sources such as flashlights and candles to help light your home during an outage. If you use candles, keep an eye on them and never leave them unattended. You should aim to have one flashlight per person in your household, according to the Ready campaign, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security website focused on educating the public about disaster preparations.

Camping equipment can come in handy during a power outage in Texas. Using head lamps and lanterns for camping can be used as well. You can use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot to gain access to the internet.

If you need food, the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s Guadalupe Center, located at 326 Jensen Drive, will provide emergency food and cleaning supplies starting Monday. You can apply for financial assistance online here.

A man stands by a fallen branch blocks TC Jester Blvd. heading south because a large tree is impeding the roadway after a storm, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston.
A man stands by a fallen branch blocks TC Jester Blvd. heading south because a large tree is impeding the roadway after a storm, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Houston. (Marie D. De JesĂşs / Abdelraoufsinno)

How to check a power outage map for the Houston area

CenterPoint Energy offers a power outage tracker that shows how many power outages are in its service area; how many customers are without power; and how many customers have had power restored.

How to safely use a portable generator

Using a portable generator can be helpful during power outages but be cautious when using it. If you’re using a generator for the first time during a power outage, be sure to take time to read instructions thoroughly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Some precautions to take when it comes to generators include:

  • Never use a portable generator indoors
  • Place it at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and garages
  • Keep the generator dry from rain or flooding to prevent electrical shock
  • Be sure to let it cool down before refueling

Did ERCOT cause the Houston power outages?

No, this wasn’t an Electric Reliability Council of Texas issue. Strong winds knocked out power lines that left nearly 1 million CenterPoint customers without power.

The grid currently has enough power for current demand.

Is water safe to drink during the power outage?

The city of Houston’s water is currently safe to drink. There currently is no boil water notice.

Houston Public Works has asked people to limit water usage and toilet flushing in order to create less demand on its systems after last night’s storms.

What if you see a downed power line?

Do not approach it. Instead, you should call 311 to report downed power lines or other damage that impacts safety. You can also send reports to CenterPoint Energy at 713-207-2222.

Only call 911 for life-threatening emergencies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people should not drive through standing water if downed power lines are in the water.

If a power line falls on your car, stay inside and continue driving away from the line. Do not turn off the ignition. Immediately call 911 and your local utility company.

The Houston Fire Department advises people to stay 35 feet away from downed power lines and treat all downed and damaged equipment as energized.

What to do if you see an animal in need of help?

Cory Stottlemyer, director of communications for BARC, the city of Houston's animal shelter and adoption center, said to be conscious as a pet owner that your pet is a member of your family as well.

“If you’re without electricity and it’s hot, if you’re getting hot, they likely are too,” he said. “They need to have consistent access to water and food as well, just like you do.”

BARC is closed Friday but has emergency officers to respond to emergency service calls, Stottlemeyer said.

Be cautious if you encounter an animal that you are not familiar with, he said. If you take your pet out, be sure they do not ingest anything or step on any debris that could injure them.

Who to call for help to remove debris in your yard

CrowdSource Rescue, a nonprofit disaster response organization, is active and helping people clean up. You can request or volunteer to help here.

How to deal with hot weather during a power outage

Temperatures will reach the low 90s this weekend as many people continue to be without power. Be sure to wear light and loose clothing if you’re home without power.

Drink plenty of water and avoid heavy activity. Check in on your neighbors, especially if they are elderly or people with disabilities. Children and infants are also vulnerable during high temperatures.

Keep an eye out for symptoms of heat stroke, which is when your body rises to 106 degrees or higher within 15 minutes. Your body can no longer cool itself when you are experiencing a heat stroke.

If you or someone you know is having a medical emergency, call 911.

How to find cooling centers in the Houston area if you lose power

You can go to any open YMCA location across Houston to seek power and take a hot shower. Some locations are closed and without power.

Each location will allow you to come in during normal operating hours Friday and Saturday. To see what location is near and open, click here.

The city of Houston will open five cooling centers on Friday beginning at 2 p.m. If you need transportation to a cooling center, call 311.

Cooling centers available from 2-7 p.m.:

  • Kingwood Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Drive, Kingwood, TX, 77345
  • Stude Park Community Center, 1031 Stude Street, Houston, TX, 77007

Cooling centers available from 3-7 p.m.:

  • Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 West Montgomery Road, Houston, TX, 77091
  • Sunnyside Health and Multi-Service Center, 4510 Reed Road, Houston, TX, 77051
  • Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 W Gray St, Houston, TX, 77019

The American Red Cross shelter located at Green House International Church at 200 W Greens Road, Houston, TX, 77067 is also accepting people who have been affected. You must bring a driver’s license to confirm you are not unhoused and they recommend you bring a pair of clothing.

The shelter is open 24/7 and has a max capacity of 50 people. As of midnight, they had only three individuals taking shelter at the church.

“If they are going to drive themselves to the shelter, be careful of floodwaters along the road,” said Gabriel Fabiano, contact center liaison and documentation manager at the American Red Cross.

How to help people recover from the storm damage

During times of disaster, it’s important to check on your neighbors. The elderly, children, infants, and people with disabilities are typically the ones who are most vulnerable.

If you’re interested in volunteering to help people during this time, you can volunteer for CrowdSource to help pick up debris.

If you have any additional questions, please email [email protected] and we will do our best to find an answer.

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Angelica Perez is a civic engagement reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. A Houston native, she is excited to return to the city after interning at The Dallas Morning News as a breaking news intern in the...