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Virus-weary Texas braces for Hurricane Hanna’s arrival

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Tides rise at Bob Hall Pier as Hurricane Hanna approaches land in Corpus Christi, Texas on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Hanna has been upgraded to a hurricane and is moving toward Texas, which has been dealing with a surge of coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Hanna’s maximum sustained winds had increased and that it was expected to make landfall Saturday afternoon or early evening. (Courtney Sacco/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — Hurricane Hanna rumbled toward the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, lashing the shoreline with wind gusts, rain and storm surge, and even threatening to bring possible tornadoes to a part of the country trying to cope with a spike in coronavirus cases.

The storm, which is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to make landfall late Saturday afternoon or early evening south of Corpus Christi, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. As of late Saturday morning, it had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (129 kph) and was centered about 85 miles (137 kilometers) southeast of Corpus Christi and was moving west at 7 mph (11 kph).

Many parts of Texas, including the area where Hanna was expected to come ashore, have been dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but local officials said they were prepared for whatever the storm may bring.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said Saturday that he had seen some residents doing last-minute shopping for supplies, but he warned that if that hadn’t been done already, people should stay at home and ride out the storm.

“We’ve been staying at home for five months because of the corona(virus). … So staying home doesn’t sound real popular, but right now this is a real important matter,” McComb said adding that residents should remember to wear masks if they have to evacuate their homes.

Judge Barbara Canales, Nueces County’s top elected official, said officials were highly concerned about storm surge that was already moving inland. Live webcam footage showed waves sweeping over popular Whitecap Beach near Corpus Christi hours before the hurricane was expected to make landfall.

First responders in Corpus Christi proactively placed barricades near intersections to have them ready to go if streets began to flood, McComb said. More than 9,100 people in the Corpus Christi area were without power early Saturday afternoon, according to AEP Texas.

Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, where health officials made headlines when they revealed that 60 infants tested positive for COVID-19 from July 1 to July 16.

Farther south in Cameron County, which borders Mexico, more than 300 confirmed new cases have been reported almost daily for the past two weeks, according to state health figures. The past week has also been the county’s deadliest of the pandemic.

The main hazard from Hanna was expected to be flash flooding. Forecasters said Hanna could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain through Sunday night — with isolated totals of 18 inches (46 centimeters) — in addition to coastal swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to account for the virus, and Hanna loomed as the first big test.

South Texas officials’ plans for any possible rescues, shelters and monitoring of the storm will have the pandemic in mind and incorporate social distancing guidelines and mask wearing. Gov. Greg Abbott said various resources to respond to the storm were on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.

In the Mexican city of Matamoros, located across the border from Brownsville, volunteers were keeping a close eye on Hanna, worried that the storm could affect a makeshift migrant camp near the Rio Grande where about 1,300 asylum seekers, including newborn babies and elderly residents, have been waiting under the U.S. immigration policy informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”

Tornadoes were also possible Saturday for parts of the lower to middle Texas coastal plain, forecasters said Friday. A hurricane warning remained in effect for Port Mansfield to Mesquite Bay, which is north of Corpus Christi, and a tropical storm warning was in effect from Port Mansfield south to Barra el Mezquital, Mexico, and from Mesquite Bay north to High Island, Texas.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was still on track to move across the southern Windward Islands on Saturday afternoon or evening. Gonzalo was moving west near 18 mph (30 kph) with maximum sustained winds at 40 mph (65 kph), the National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning.

Gonzalo is forecast to bring 1 to 3 inches (3 to 8 centimeters) of rain, with isolated totals of 5 inches (13 centimeters). A tropical storm warning was in effect for Tobago and Grenada and its dependencies. The storm was expected to dissipate by Sunday night or Monday, forecasters said.

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Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin contributed to this report.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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