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Tropical Storm Beryl: How to get help and help Texans

The Morales family works to unclog storm drains across the street from their house in the Robindell neighborhood during the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl on Monday, July 8, 2024, in Houston.
Annie Mulligan
for The Texas Tribune
The Morales family works to unclog storm drains across the street from their house in the Robindell neighborhood during the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl on Monday, July 8, 2024, in Houston.

Texans in Houston and coastal counties were hit by heavy rain, strong winds and power outages after Hurricane Beryl began sweeping through the area early Monday.

Downed trees have killed at least two people and more than 2 million customers were left without power Monday morning.

Beryl, which arrived in Matagorda as a Category 1 hurricane, weakened to a tropical storm as it moved northeast through the state. Still, officials have warned Houston and coastal residents of continued risks from flooding, downed trees, damaged power lines and carbon monoxide poisoning.

The National Weather Service of Houston said Monday afternoon that flooding rains, strong winds and isolated tornadoes will continue to be possible as the tropical storm system tracks further inland. It also issued a heat advisory for Tuesday, noting that no air conditioning and lingering humidity could make for dangerous conditions as temperatures warm again. The National Weather Service in Shreveport confirmed two tornadoes in East Texas.

Here are some safety and recovery tips for Texans bearing the brunt of Beryl’s landfall and information on how others may be able to help.

How to stay safe amid flooding and power outages

Officials have highlighted flash flooding and river flooding as some of the biggest dangers from Beryl, which was forecasted to bring up to 10-15 inches of rainfall in some areas.

Here’s what to do in case of flooding:

  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Just six inches of water can make a person fall, while one foot of water is enough to sweep up a vehicle during a flood.
  • If flood waters rise around your vehicle, leave it and move to higher ground. If you are stuck in a flooded area, look for a higher space away from flood waters. Stay off bridges that go over fast-moving water. You can check for flooded or closed roads through the state’s drivetexas.org website.
  • Be careful in areas where flood waters have receded and watch out for debris or electrically charged standing water. Stay away from all bodies of water and electric lines near you.
  • Shut off your home’s main circuit breakers to prevent appliance short circuits and the threat of electrocution.

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills hundreds of people in the U.S. every year and can be especially dangerous during power outages, when people use alternative sources of fuel or electricity such as generators.

Early symptoms can include flu-like symptoms like headaches, dizziness and nausea. At higher levels of exposure, it can produce vomiting, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain and confusion. Without immediate treatment, people can lose consciousness and die.

If you lose power, here are tips to stay safe:

  • Avoid using generators, grills, camp stoves and other fuel-burning devices in a home, basement, garage or camper.
  • Don’t use an oven or gas range to heat your home.
  • Don’t leave your car idling inside a garage.
  • Generators should be kept away from a home’s windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Avoid connecting a generator to a home's main wiring because the feedback along the powerline could electrocute the linemen coming to fix the electricity.
  • Leave your home immediately and call 911 if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off.
  • Call the National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 if you have questions about carbon monoxide safety.

If you lose power and have perishable food items:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain the cold temperature. If they remain unopened, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours, while a full freezer will maintain its temperature for approximately 48 hours.
  • If perishable food has been held at room temperature for two hours or more, discard it.
  • When the power comes back on, check the refrigerator's or the food's temperature and discard any refrigerated perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40°F for more than four hours to prevent any foodborne illnesses.

The lingering humidity is expected to raise the heat index – what temperatures will feel like – to up to 105 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Here are some tips to stay safe, even without power:

  • Drink water throughout the day — even before you get thirsty. Avoid sugary drinks, caffeine and alcohol. Also avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • If your home does not have air conditioning and it’s safe for you to travel, go to a shopping mall or public library with power. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
  • Follow city officials and local media to see if any heat-relief shelters are open.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Take a cold shower or bath to cool off.
  • Cover windows that let in lots of sun with curtains or shades.

How to get recovery assistance

The following places have said they are acting as shelters or may be available to help:

  • Text SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 to find shelters with help from FEMA. (This may refer you to check with local officials or online.)
  • Gallery Furniture, located at 6006 North Interstate 45, is open as a shelter, according to founder Jim Mattress Mack McIngvale. No pets are allowed.
  • Under Over Church at 600 South Frazier Street in Conroe. (The church reported it lost power and was also giving away perishable food.)
  • The Conroe Salvation Army Center of Hope at 304 Avenue E in Conroe will be open 24 hours through 7 a.m. Wednesday. Meals will be served at the back door with lunch from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. and dinner from 5-6 p.m.

Government and community resources may be available to help with recovery. Organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and local volunteer organizations can help you find food, shelter and supplies, as well as assist you with clean-up efforts. Here are some common disaster resources and how to contact them:

  • Call or text 800-985-5990 for crisis counseling from SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline.
  • Call 800-733-2767 to get help from the American Red Cross, including housing and shelter, financial assistance, health services and mental health assistance.
  • Call 211 or 877-541-7905 for information on Texas disaster and social services, including local mental health care resources.
  • Call 311 for debris pickup, transportation, and other city services.
  • Call 800-504-7030 if you are low-income and need legal assistance related to natural disasters and documents to get help from the State Bar of Texas.

After a disaster, a disaster declaration from the governor and president may free up federal funds for recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. To help the state assess damages for this process, Texans can report damages through the Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool.

People cannot receive disaster and insurance assistance for the same damages, so insured Texans should file claims through their existing policies before applying for FEMA assistance.

Take photos and document any damage to your property to submit it to the state, your insurance or FEMA. Here’s more on what type of assistance FEMA typically provides and how to navigate the application process.

How to get mental health support

It is normal for people to experience shock in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Those with existing mental health conditions may see increased stress, while others focusing on recovery at the moment may feel stress and trauma later.

Symptoms include aches, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, loss of motivation, increased frustration and feelings of overwhelm, sadness, numbness, loneliness and exhaustion.

Most stress responses are temporary but seek help if they persist for over two weeks. Signs of greater emotional distress include hopelessness, guilt, difficulty readjusting, excessive smoking, drinking, drug use or thoughts of self-harm, according to SAMHSA.

SAMHSA runs the Disaster Distress Helpline to provide support to people experiencing emotional distress related to disasters, including hurricanes. The helpline operates year-round, 24 hours a day and is free and confidential. You can call or text 800-985-5990 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor who can provide counseling, healthy coping tips and more information on signs of emotional distress. Crisis counselors can also refer you to local resources for additional support.

Trained crisis counselors are also available through the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

Read more tips about how to take care of your mental health during natural disasters here.

How to help Texans affected by Beryl

The Houston Food Bank has a disaster relief fund accepting monetary donations for food, water and other necessary supplies. Once disaster needs are met, any remaining funds will help provide food for people facing hunger across southeast Texas.

The American Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast has asked for volunteers to assist in Beryl aid operations. You can find more information and sign up to volunteer with the Red Cross here. For the latest from the Gulf Coast chapter, you can also follow their Facebook page.

The Salvation Army said it plans to mobilize trained staff and volunteers to the region to assist in recovery efforts focused on feeding people and “emotional and spiritual care.” You can visit their Texas division website to get involved or donate. They also plan to offer meals to those who require assistance utilizing 10 mobile kitchens across the Houston area, which are anticipated to begin in affected communities on Tuesday.

Texans on Mission is providing assistance removing fallen trees or limbs. Fill out the request form on their website and someone will contact you.

You can try websites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar to vet nonprofits you’re not familiar with.

If you know of any other resources we should include, feel free to let us know at community@texastribune.org.

Perla Trevizo, Julia Guilbeau and Nina Banks contributed to this reporting.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/07/08/hurricane-tropical-storm-beryl-safety-how-to-help/.

Copyright 2024 KERA

María Méndez | The Texas Tribune
Mikayla Higgins | The Texas Tribune