Editor's note: This story has been updated with a photo of storm-related damage in Downtown Houston.

Updated 3:37 p.m. May 17

During a press conference at 3 p.m. May 17 following a helicopter ride over the county, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the damage from storms on May 16 was not as bad as originally anticipated.

"We were trying to get a top-down view of the situation, and what we found in our flyover is actually good news," Hidalgo said. "The damage does not seem to be nearly as catastrophic as we thought it would be."

Hidalgo said the biggest concentration of issues was seen mainly south of Hwy. 290 between the Grand Parkway and Beltway 8, north of I-10.

"We saw various neighborhoods in the Cypress area that were affected," Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo also said around 650,000 customers are still without power.

"[CenterPoint] is still assessing the timeline and impact of the downed transmission lines," Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo also said CenterPoint may be able to reroute power around downed transmission lines.

"It's hope," Hidalgo said. "Certainly better than what we were thinking."

Houston Mayor John Whitmire also announced via Facebook on May 17 that he signed a disaster declaration.

"This creates a path for additional authority and resources from both state and federal partners to assist with citywide storm recovery," Whitmire said via Facebook.

Updated 11:15 a.m. May 17

During a press conference at 10 a.m. May 17, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and city of Houston Mayor John Whitmire provided updates following severe weather May 16 and widespread power outages.

In a nutshell

Hidalgo said the Houston area had winds of 80-100 mph.

"We got unlucky last night in terms of what ended up happening with the weather," Hidalgo said. "It's rare for these kinds of things to happen. This kind of wind is something we have not seen in Harris County since Hurricane Alicia in 1983."

Hidalgo said there was a tornado near Cypress that went toward the downtown metro area.

"It's really ... sporadic strengths of damage, where you may have one home or one street [damaged] and the next one over is fine," Hidalgo said. "It's just the nature of this kind of thing."

Hidalgo said this disaster should be talked about in "weeks, not days."

"For some folks, the luckier ones, it might be days, not hours," Hidalgo said. "For some who've had the power restored, that's wonderful. But for many, many people, it's going to be weeks and not days."

Whitmire said 2,500 traffic lights were not functioning.

"Stay away from downtown," Whitmire said. "Stay off the road unless you're an essential worker."

Diving in deeper

At the peak of the power outages, about 930,000 CenterPoint customers did not have power, Hidalgo said. That number is now at around 740,000 customers.

"If you are tied into the transmission lines that fell, ... that can take weeks to restore," Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo said CenterPoint has 2,000 mutual aid crews coming to help work to restore power, with the company trying to secure up to 4,000 mutual aid crews.

Houston officials also did not provide any updates on the number of fatalities, which was reported to be four as of the night of May 16.

Debris has been cleared from freeways, but there may still be debris in neighborhoods, Hidalgo said.

"I think we're witnessing the greatest collaboration during a crisis, certainly in my 50-plus years of public service," Whitmire said. "Mutual aid is coming from every direction."

Whitmire also said he spoke to Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, and the city will be sending technicians to Houston to help restore streetlights.

What else?

Hidalgo said 15 Harris County library locations will be open and fully staffed to serve as cooling centers. The list of open libraries will be posted on www.readyharris.org when that is confirmed.

Hidalgo also said there are no boil-water notices in place.

Brent Taylor, with the city of Houston's Office of Emergency Management department, said the only open cooling center is operated by the American Red Cross in the Greenspoint area in north Houston:
  • Green House International, 200 W. Greens Road, Houston
Also of note

Hidalgo said the White House has reached out to the county's government affairs team, and the county's ask is to be able to combine this severe weather event with the flooding in early May when it comes to being able to receive individual assistance.

In a May 17 statement, Gov. Greg Abbott said his office remains in contact with local officials.

“As severe weather sweeps through the Southeast region of the state, Texas continues to deploy resources and assistance to impacted communities to ensure the safety of Texans," Abbott said. "Last month, I prepared state emergency response resources and issued a disaster declaration. I have since amended that declaration to ensure every community threatened by dangerous weather conditions would have access to necessary resources. The Texas Division of Emergency Management continues to support impacted communities with immediate and long-term recovery resource needs. The Public Utility Commission of Texas is coordinating with utility providers to restore power to affected areas as quickly as possible."

Posted 7:43 a.m. May 17

Four people are confirmed dead by officials and thousands of residents are without power following severe weather that hit the Houston area May 16.

What happened

Severe thunderstorms that hit the Houston area May 16 contained wind gusts up to 80 mph, the National Weather Service Houston-Galveston confirmed in a Facebook post.

During the worst of the storms last night, alongside severe thunderstorm warnings, the NWS issued several tornado warnings that affected area cities such as Jersey Village, Bellaire, Houston, Galena Park and Baytown.

Additionally, wind gusts around Houston reached speeds of over 70 mph, according to the NWS. Per the NWS, the highest measured wind reports from May 16 include:
  • 74 mph near the Houston Ship Channel
  • 65 mph in Cypress
  • 62 mph at Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental airports
  • 49 mph in Conroe
  • 40 mph near Jersey Village
The weather also caused widespread power outages. As of 6:44 a.m. May 17, 721,238 people are without power, according to Centerpoint's outage tracker.

Following the severe weather, school districts across the Houston metro have either canceled classes or closed select campuses May 17.

What they're saying

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor John Whitmire both issued statements May 16 regarding the severe weather.

In a statement posted at 10:25 p.m. May 16 to Facebook, Hidalgo confirmed at least four people have been reported dead from the severe weather, and she said initial reports suggested debris from the storm looks "very significant."

"Our Harris County precincts and Engineering Department are working overnight to clear as much roadway debris as possible, in partnership with our cities," Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo also said 1,500 mutual assistance crews are traveling to the area to assist in restoring power.

"It seems like it will take longer to restore electricity for those on the west side of our county and around Cypress, given their reliance on the transmission lines, but again, we will have more updates [May 17]," Hidalgo said in her statement.

During a press conference May 16, Whitmire emphasized that people should stay home May 17 and that there is "considerable damage downtown."

"The real problem we have right now is traffic control," Whitmire said. "Most of the traffic lights across the city are down and they'll be down for considerable hours."

During that press conference, Whitmire said power would potentially be out for 24-48 hours.

"We're in a recovery mode," Whitmire said.

Whitmire also said the city is working with county commissioners, and the state is sending Department of Public Safety officers to help "secure downtown."

"We're concerned about the dangers of downtown—glass, the traffic lights are out—so the DPS is going to relieve [Houston Police Department officers] later tonight to secure downtown, allowing HPD to make emergency calls," Whitmire said.

During Whitmire's press conference, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the city has widespread damaged areas and the majority of the fire department's calls have been gas leaks and downed wires.

"Houston Fire is participating and collaborating with all city departments, as the mayor mentioned, to ensure that we can clear some of this debris, make a proper assessment of the damaged areas and start the recovery process," Peña said.

What else?

Hidalgo said people should call 911 if they're in danger, and call 311 to report debris or downed trees.