Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo updated the public on Hurricane Laura in back-to-back press conferences Wednesday afternoon, likely their final remarks before the powerful storm makes landfall late Wednesday night.
Laura has strengthened into a powerful category 4 storm that’s now on track to land just east of the Texas-Louisiana border after midnight tonight. Although the greater Houston area will likely be spared from widespread catastrophic damage due to the storm, the heavy winds that will blow through the region could still cause some headaches for residents in the form of power outages and downed trees.
“We are cautiously optimistic, but until the storm has left, we don’t want anyone to let their guards down,” Turner said.
“We will avoid a direct hit, but that doesn’t mean that we’re avoiding potential consequences like power outages or the impacts of wind,” Hidalgo said. “We still do anticipate tropical storm winds in our county, particularly on the east side of our county, which could cause significant damage.”
Both Turner and Hidalgo once again implored area residents who haven’t been asked to leave home to stay off local roads after 8 p.m. tonight to make it easier for people from east Texas and Louisiana evacuating further inland before the storm hits.
During Turner’s press conference, CenterPoint Energy’s Director of External Engagement Elizabeth Brock said that the electricity provider has been preparing for Hurricane Laura “since last week,” and has 30 staging sites across the greater Houston area ready to respond to potential power outages caused by Laura’s heavy winds. “We will work until everyone’s power is restored, and then we will turn our focus on helping our neighbors,” Brock said.
Turner said that earlier on Wednesday he spoke with Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and told Kidd that Houston is ready to help people from further east Texas and southwestern Louisiana who are expected to bear the brunt of Laura’s wrath. “We stand ready to assist,” Turner said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
As a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a reality, Turner also provided a brief update on the city’s COVID-19 metrics. He said that the Houston Health Department on Wednesday reported an additional 367 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths within Houston, bringing the city’s cumulative case total to 62,097 cases and 768 deaths since the pandemic began.
Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department provided a promising update on Houston’s COVID-19 test positivity rate, which he said is now “just over 9 percent,” which is within striking distance of the health department’s goal of a sub-5 percent rate in order to effectively carry out contact tracing efforts, and well below the rate of more than 30 percent several weeks ago.
“I want to congratulate Houstonians, because we have done a great job in driving the positivity rate down quite a bit,” Persse said.