CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- Hurricane Hanna roared ashore on the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, bringing winds that lashed the shoreline with rain and storm surge, and threatening to bring tornadoes to a part of the country trying to cope with a spike in coronavirus cases.
The first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall on Padre Island about 5 p.m., with a second landfall about 6:15 p.m. about 15 miles north of Port Mansfield, which is about 130 miles south of Corpus Christi and about 70 miles north of Brownsville. As of Saturday evening, it had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.
The National Weather Service reported "significant structural damage" in Port Mansfield, with winds gusting over 80 mph. "Severe damage" was reported to a pier on North Padre Island, where winds topped 100 mph.
Images from social media showed water inundating parts of downtown Corpus Christi.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he had issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in Texas and had asked the federal government to approve a similar declaration.
Many parts of Texas, including the area where Hanna came ashore as a Category 1 storm, have been dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but local officials said they were prepared for whatever the storm might 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 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.
Sherry Boehme, who lives in a condo along the beach in Corpus Christi, said the storm's approach had increased the anxiety she has felt during the pandemic. The 67-year-old has mostly stayed home because of health issues related to chronic lung disease.Gallery: Hurricane Hanna makes landfall
"It's almost like a double whammy to us," Boehme said Saturday by phone. "I think it's made a lot of people nervous. ... We'll get through it. Everybody is good and strong and sticks together."
County Judge Barbara Canales said officials were concerned about storm surge that was already moving inland. Live webcam footage showed waves sweeping over Whitecap Beach near Corpus Christi hours before the hurricane made landfall.
STORM ON TOP OF VIRUS
First responders in Corpus Christi placed barricades near intersections to have them ready to go if streets began flooding, McComb said. More than 35,000 people throughout South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Harlingen and Brownsville, were without power early Saturday evening, 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 and where Brownsville is located, 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 of rain through tonight -- with isolated totals of 18 inches -- in addition to coastal swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
A local state of disaster was declared in Hidalgo County, which straddles the border with Mexico to the west-northwest of Brownsville, given "expected catastrophic flooding."
Farther north, a spattering of tropical downpours was affecting the Houston-Galveston area, while another cluster of rains was deluging the Golden Triangle of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange.
In this zone, lesser amounts are predicted, with 2 to 4 inches likely. However, if the storm's rain bands pass repeatedly over the same area, the downpour could lead to flooding.
A SEASONAL TEST
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.
Abbott said Saturday that some sheltering would take place in hotel rooms so people could be separated.
"We cannot allow this hurricane to lead to a more catastrophically deadly event by stoking additional spread of covid-19 that could lead to fatalities," Abbott said.
Texas ranks second among the states with the most new cases in the past week, and South Texas has been hit particularly hard.
According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, the seven counties from Corpus Christi south to Brownsville and inland along the Mexican border, which are likely to see Hanna's strongest winds and heaviest rains, have diagnosed a total of 18,420 active covid-19 cases.
Hidalgo County has recorded the third-highest number of fatalities statewide, with at least 433.
Various resources and personnel to respond to the storm were on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft. Mobile teams that can continue testing for covid-19 were also being deployed.
MEXICO BRACES TOO
Tornadoes were also possible Saturday for parts of the lower to middle Texas coastal plain, forecasters said. A hurricane warning remained in effect for Port Mansfield to Mesquite Bay 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.
Mexico's northeasternmost states, coastal Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon just to its west, also took precautions ahead of the storm's arrival. Tamaulipas was preparing shelters and disinfecting them to try to avoid spreading covid-19, tweeted the state's governor, Francisco Cabeza de Vaca.
Meanwhile, the civil protection department was sending rescue boats and other equipment to northern Nuevo Leon because heavy rains were expected.
David Leon, national director of the civil protection department, told Milenio TV on Saturday that as many as 800 shelters could be activated in the parts of Mexico that could be affected by Hanna.
In the Mexican city of Matamoros, which is in Tamaulipas across the border from Brownsville, Texas, 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."
HAWAII ON ALERT
Separately, a Pacific Ocean hurricane, Douglas, was heading toward Hawaii on Saturday. Douglas was expected to be near the main Hawaiian Islands late Saturday night and then move over parts of the state today and Monday.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Hawaii on Saturday, directing federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.
The coronavirus was complicating preparations for the American Red Cross, which operates emergency shelters on behalf of local governments. Many volunteers who normally staff the shelters are staying home because they are older or have health conditions that put them at higher risk of getting severely sick if infected by the virus.
Hawaii has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation, but covid-19 numbers have been rising in recent weeks. On Thursday and Friday, the state reported 55 and 60 new confirmed cases, which were record highs.
Powerful storms are familiar to many in Hawaii who have spent the past several summers preparing for tropical cyclones. But the pandemic adds a new twist.
Luke Meyers, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, urged people to get ready by learning about the hazards where they live.
The National Weather Service on Saturday issued a hurricane warning for the island of Oahu, where the state's largest city, Honolulu, is located. The Big Island and Maui remain under a hurricane watch.
WEAKER BUT STILL A THREAT
Maximum sustained winds had decreased and were about 90 mph, making Douglas a Category 1 hurricane by midday Saturday.
The weather service said the storm was expected to gradually weaken over the weekend, but still be near hurricane strength when it neared the islands.
The storm was about 520 miles southeast of Honolulu on Saturday.
At Pearl Harbor, the Navy began moving ships and submarines out to sea, where they'll stay until the threat subsides. The Navy will either secure its aircraft in hangars or fly them to other airfields.
Hawaiian Airlines canceled all of today's flights and some Saturday flights between Honolulu and the other islands.
And back in the Atlantic, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gonzalo were expected to move westward across the southern Caribbean for the next couple of days. Gonzalo was forecast to bring 1 to 2 inches of rain. Watches or warnings were no longer in effect.
Simultaneously, a third Atlantic system south of the Cape Verde islands bears watching and has an increasing likelihood of tropical development once it approaches the Lesser Antilles during the first half of this week.
Information for this article was contributed by Juan A. Lozano, John L. Mone, Audrey McAvoy, Julie Walker and Maria Verza of The Associated Press; and by Matthew Cappucci, Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow of The Washington Post.
Print Headline: Hurricane Hanna lashes Texas amid pandemic