South Texas prepares for Tropical Storm Hanna amid pandemic

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales (KSAT)

HOUSTON – Officials in South Texas, hit by the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, said Friday they’re also prepared to handle any challenges from Tropical Storm Hanna, which was headed their way and expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall this weekend.

“And don’t feel like since we’ve been fighting COVID for five months that we’re out of energy or we’re out of gas. We’re not. We can do these two things together and we’re going to win both of them. And so, we’ll get through this,” said Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb.

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Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, one of several COVID-19 hot spots in Texas. Officials in Nueces County said this week that 60 infants tested positive for the virus from July 1 to July 16.

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 and County Judge Eddie Treviño, the county’s top elected official, said he was awaiting word Friday of whether hotels would be used to house recovering COVID-19 patients in order to free up hospital beds.

“If there’s any benefit to be gained from this, it’s that people have to stay at home for a weekend," added Treviño, who has expressed concern in recent weeks over residents not wearing masks and partying together.

Hanna was about 190 miles (305 kilometers) east of Corpus Christi, according to the 7 p.m. CDT Friday advisory from the National Hurricane Center. It had maximum sustained winds around 50 mph (80 kph) but was expected to intensify as forecasters issued a hurricane warning for parts of the Texas coast. Hanna is expected to make landfall near Corpus Christi sometime Saturday afternoon or early evening, officials said.

The main hazard from Hanna was expected to be flash flooding, said Chris Birchfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville. Areas of South Texas could see anywhere from 5 to 10 inches of rain, with some parts possibly seeing up to 15 inches. But the storm was also expected to have wind gusts up to 90 mph (145 kph).

“We could be dealing with significant flash flooding across much of deep South Texas,” Birchfield said.

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales said she understands that the tropical storm would exacerbate already difficult times the county, which has about 362,000 residents, has been experiencing during the pandemic.

“You might be asking yourself at home, ’How could this be possible that we’re living inside this unbelievable COVID-19 crisis here in Nueces County' ... and then you think here comes a tropical storm ... But I ask you to think about being brave at being patient," Canales said Friday.

Officials reminded residents to wear their masks if they needed to get extra supplies at grocery stores or if they had to shelter with neighbors in case of flooding.

Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to 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.

Treviño said shelters would socially distance families if any need to evacuate.

Inside Corpus Christi's Emergency Operations Center, “we are spacing everybody out" and those that can't be inside will work virtually, said Billy Delgado, the city's emergency management coordinator. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, the operations center had 75 people working inside. For Hanna, it will have far less than that, Delgado noted.

In the Mexican city of Matamoros, located across the border from Brownsville, volunteers worried whether the tropical storm would impact a makeshift migrant camp near the Rio Grande River. About 1,300 asylum seekers, including newborn babies and elderly residents, are sheltering there as they wait under the U.S. immigration policy informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”

Erin Hughes, a volunteer at the camp who is a civil engineer from Philadelphia, said tropical storms pose a devastating threat since the camp is located on a floodplain and she and others were monitoring the river's water level.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that various resources to respond to the tropical storm are on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.


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


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