Southern Texas area struck hardest by coronavirus hit by Hurricane Hanna
Texas officials grappling with the coronavirus are now working a second front after Hurricane Hanna made landfall on the southeastern part of the state Saturday evening and now threatens parts of the state with flooding.
“Any hurricane is an enormous challenge,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news conference Saturday. “This challenge is complicated and made even more severe, seeing that it is sweeping through an area that is the most challenged area in the state for COVID-19.”
The governor issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in the state and has also issued a federal emergency disaster declaration request. Urging extreme caution, Abbott warned residents across the state not to forget about the virus because of the storm.
Officials in Hidalgo County, where several of the affected cities are located, reported overwhelmed hospitals last week filled to capacity and a judge ordered residents to shelter at home following upticks in both coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
“This is a time in response to a hurricane where sometimes people will come together, come together to shelter, come together just as close family, come together as friends, come together to respond,” Abbott said. “That coming together will continue to provide the ability for COVID-19 to transmit from one person to another.”
Hanna made landfall on Padre Island Saturday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center. It’s the first hurricane of the season in the Atlantic and had sustained winds of 90 mph, making it a high-end Category 1 hurricane. Early Sunday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved westward through southern Texas, according to the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
As the storm barrels through the region, it’s bringing with it heavy rains and threats of flash flooding.
‘Life-threatening’ flooding expected, governor says
Already, some of the southernmost parts of Texas have received over a foot of rain as the center of the storm was crossing over to northeastern Mexico, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said, but the rain isn’t letting up just yet.
Areas across southern Texas can expect another five to 10 inches of rain through the early morning, with some localized spots seeing as much as 18 inches of water. Areas along the Rio Grande Valley are especially susceptible to flooding, Van Dam said. Expected flooding in the Rio Grande Valley could be “life-threatening,” the governor said Saturday evening, as Hanna was making landfall.
“The storm will basically rain itself out over extreme southern Texas and northeastern Mexico,” he said.
Flash flood warnings are in effect by the weather service for areas including the cities of McAllen, Mission, Brownsville, San Benito, Donna, Mercedes, Raymondville and Lyford.
“We’ll continue to see dramatic waves of flooding including flash flooding that will come upon people suddenly. One moment they will be in an area … where it seems like there’s a little rain and then moments later, they could be awash in water up to their doors if they’re in their cars, up to their knees if they’re walking around,” the governor said Saturday.
Meanwhile, another potential tropical system that could develop over the next five days is trekking behind Hanna across the Atlantic Ocean, Van Dam said.
268,000 without power
Tropical storm-force winds in parts of Texas could cause power outages and damage to buildings and trees, the weather service said. There is the possibility of brief spin-up tornadoes, Van Dam said, and there will still be dangerous rip currents and localized beach flooding along the coast.
At least 268,898 homes were without power throughout the state as of Sunday morning, according to PowerOutage.US.
In Mission, Texas, officials said early Sunday morning emergency responders had already been dispatched to several homes for water rescues. A tornado warning was issued running through early Sunday and officials reported thousands of residents were left without power after heavy winds caused damage to power lines and traffic signals.
“Electricity crews must shelter in place due to wind speeds & the rain,” the City of Mission said on Twitter. “You’re asked to only report downed power lines or safety hazards. Crews will continue to respond to outages when it’s safe to do so.”
Hurricane Douglas approaches Hawaii
Meanwhile, a second storm system is threatening another US state through Monday.
Hurricane Douglas, which has now weakened to a Category 1 storm according to Van Dam, will impact Hawaii, and the island Oahu will likely bear the brunt of it.
The storm will pass “dangerously close to” or over the main Hawaiian islands, according to the National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
“It is vital that you do not focus on the exact forecast track or intensity of Douglas,” the centers said.” Due to Douglas’ angle of approach to the islands, any small changes in the track could lead to significant differences in where the worst weather occurs. Even if the center remains offshore, severe impacts could still be realized over the islands.”
A hurricane warning is in effect for Oahu, a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning for Maui County and Big Island and a tropical storm warning for Niihau and Kauai, according to the weather service.
The approaching storm is threatening the islands with high and damaging winds, rain, as well as landslides and high surf. The major effects will be felt in the next six to 12 hours, Van Dam said.
Ahead of the storm, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Hawaii, according to a statement from the White House.
The declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide “assistance for the counties of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui and the City and County of Honolulu,” the statement said.