Severe storms with hurricane-force winds cause widespread damage, power outages around Houston

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HOUSTON – A storm system that threatened to produce torrential rainfall over East Texas spawned severe thunderstorms in the nation’s fourth-largest city Thursday, causing at least four fatalities and leaving more than 1 million customers without power.

The local National Weather Service office issued several Tornado Warnings for the Houston metro but by the time the storms cleared, it was strong winds that are believed to have caused most of the damage. Winds estimated to be in excess of 70 mph toppled trees, blew out windows of high-rise buildings and caused transmission towers holding power lines to crumble.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office encouraged everyone to stay off the roads as trees blocked streets, with power outages climbing above 800,000 in the Houston metro.

PowertOuage.us reported nearby counties also were dealing with outages, sending the state’s tally to well over 1 million customers.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire said at least four people were killed by the storm and state resources were being requested to help with the recovery.

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“The roof of the Hyatt Regency downtown blew out. Rain and debris pouring down to the lobby,” a customer at the hotel told FOX Weather.

He said staff was doing the best they could to keep people safe and away from the debris.

Windows also appeared to be blown out in other downtown buildings, including around the Wells Fargo Plaza.

In nearby Minute Maid Park, wind and water were seen seeping into the building, but the severe weather did not appear to affect the play of the Astros baseball game.

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“It is all hands on deck tonight…Downtown is a mess, so stay at home tonight and tomorrow,” said Whitmire.

Local residents described the impacts of the storm as being hurricane-like despite the severe weather lasting less than an hour.

Ground stops were also issued at Bush Intercontinental Airport and Houston William P. Hobby Airport due to the severe weather.

The Houston school district closed all public schools on Friday and said they would reopen on Monday.

The dangerous thunderstorms were expected to transition into a flood threat during the overnight hours as already saturated grounds were expected to receive an additional 2-5″ of rainfall.

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