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A South Texas region exhausted by a months-long struggle with COVID-19, drought and economic distress now turned to face one more massive challenge: Hanna, the first Atlantic hurricane of 2020. Forecasters expected the cyclone to torment the region with high winds, huge waves, widespread flooding and even tornadoes along the coast.
The National Hurricane Center, or NHC, reported Saturday that Hanna was about 85 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and was moving west at 7 mph. Aircraft sent into the storm measured maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.
The tropical storm had to cross the crucial 74 mph threshold to be reclassified as a hurricane. Hanna’s sustained wind strength placed it in the lowest of five hurricane categories, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
To reach Category 2 status, weather observers would have to detect sustained winds of at least 96 mph, which may be unlikely in the time Hanna has left over warm waters.
Hanna’s forecasted track moved slightly southward, taking the hurricane from near Baffin Bay, south of Corpus Christi, through Deep South Texas and towards the U.S. Mexico border.
The Coastal Bend
Corpus Christi and nearby communities in a region popularly known as the Coastal Bend felt the effects of the storm on Saturday.
Videos filmed in Corpus Christi and shared on social media showed gawkers in parks along Shoreline Boulevard or on the seawall lurching through strong winds, soaked from the steady rain or from the mist sheared off the large gray-white waves rolling in.
Other people took selfies of themselves enduring the stormy weather, with the violently choppy waters of Corpus Christi Bay serving as a backdrop to drenched faces.
Let me tell y’all, this wind does not feel good https://t.co/PsCUAUgcHk
— annierice_photo (@annierice_photo) July 25, 2020
“On the forecast track, the center of Hanna should make landfall along the Texas coast within the hurricane warning area by late afternoon or early this evening,” the NHC reported Saturday morning.
Forecasters on Saturday morning issued a hurricane warning from Port Mansfield to Mesquite Bay.
“A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 12 hours,” the NHC explained. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
A tropical storm warning stretched from the Barra el Mezquital in Mexico to Port Mansfield, and from Mesquite Bay, northeast of Rockport, to Sargent, southwest of Houston.
“A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 12 hours,” the NHC statement added.
— NWS Corpus Christi (@NWSCorpus) July 25, 2020
Officials in the Corpus Christi area on Thursday and Friday urged residents not to underestimate the impact of Hanna, and at a Thursday press conference, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales reminded residents that they were no strangers to tropical threats.
“Here’s how I like to think about it, I guess maybe I’ve mentioned it, I’m a sports fan, baseball fanatic family,” she said. “This is our first game of our season, and it’s not preseason anymore. So we have to get back into the groove but we have to remember this is not an exhibition game where it doesn’t count. This is our game day this weekend.”
Canales emphasized that it was important to prepare, not panic.
“It was almost shocking to hear the National Weather Service say ‘it’s headed right for Corpus Christi,'” she said on Friday, “but I ask you to think about being brave and being patient.”
Nueces County officials advised residents to prepare for power outages and to stay off the beaches and roads in the coming hours.
Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said residents had to prepare for high winds, heavy rains, and possible flooding.
Here’s a look of #HurricaneHanna and its #lightning from @NOAA‘s #GOES16 this morning. #Hanna‘s sustained winds are now 80 mph. Get the latest: https://t.co/VTAp4gGkHs https://t.co/gskN014wkn pic.twitter.com/pvHXHPJntH
— NOAA Satellites – Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) July 25, 2020
Cornerstones of the Corpus Christi community responded to officials’ warnings to exercise caution. By Friday, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi had closed its offices until Monday morning, and Del Mar College continued its restrictions to its campuses, with online teaching resuming on Monday. The Texas State Aquarium also closed early.
The Port of Corpus Christi explained in a statement on Friday that it moved to Condition 2, meaning that its security and police forces would assist “vessels seeking safe harbor and, in addition, monitor vessels that have been approved to moor at Port facilities.”
Hanna arrived in the midst of a major COVID-19 outbreak in Nueces County, near the end of a bittersweet summer that saw beaches and restaurants filled with people. The county now counts about 10,000 cases and about 125 deaths.
The Rio Grande Valley
In Hidalgo County, Judge Richard Cortez urged residents on Saturday to follow COVID-19 precautions ahead of Hanna’s landfall.
“If you must go to a community of group shelter,” he said, “remember to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for protecting yourself and your family from this COVID-19. Be prepared to take clean items with you.”
Cortez said in a Facebook Live video Saturday morning that residents should keep soap, hand sanitizer and face masks with them.
County officials said they have help from the Red Cross for evacuations.
In McAllen, 1,400 residents lost power this morning.
In Laredo and Webb County, close to where forecasters expected Hanna to cross into Mexico, officials took a moment from fighting the COVID-19 outbreak to address the new challenge from Mother Nature.
“Not only do we have to worry about this, but we have to worry about a tropical depression that’s hit the Gulf, and we are in preparations for that,” said Ramiro Elizondo, Laredo’s interim fire chief and emergency manager, early on Friday.
Elizondo and other officials said they were concerned about flooding, and they would monitor the Rio Grande and floodplains throughout the county.
Hurricane #Hanna has formed off the southern coast of Texas. Though the storm has been upgraded the impacts of very heavy rain with flash flooding, Hurricane and/or Tropical Storm force winds, minor coastal flooding, rip currents and high seas have not changed. #RGVwx #txwx #SPI pic.twitter.com/EQQwPMJUbS
— NWS Brownsville (@NWSBrownsville) July 25, 2020
City Manager Robert Eads urged residents to hunker down at home to avoid straining the city’s resources.
“Just as important is this Tropical Storm Hanna because it affects our community,” he said, “which affects our response rates as well. So when you have a huge surge in water that is just concerning at a lot of different levels.”
Webb County has reported about 4,700 COVID-19 cases and 90 deaths.
In Brownsville, Cameron County officials announced plans to offer sandbags to residents to protect their homes in low-lying areas from possible flooding. Officials in McAllen also handed out sandbags.
Gov. Greg Abbott reported that the state had resources on standby in anticipation of severe weather affecting the Coastal Bend, the upper Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Hill Country.
In Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande, about a thousand asylum seekers are living in tents at a migrant camp. Some have lived there for almost a year as they wait for their immigration court cases to unfold in U.S. immigration court.
A migrant at the camp who didn’t want his name used said they’re adding nylon to their tents to try to further protect themselves from the rain. He added that they’re going to elevate the tents nearest the river by putting them on top of wooden pallets.
He also said if things go bad they will hear a horn that will indicate that they need to leave the camp. An evacuation route has already been established.
The NHC explained on Saturday that “Hanna is expected to produce 6 to 12 inches of rain with isolated maximum totals of 18 inches through Sunday night in south Texas and into the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and northern Tamaulipas. This rain may result in life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor to moderate river flooding in south Texas. [Three] to 5 inches of rain is expected along the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts.”
It added, “A few tornadoes are possible today and overnight over parts of the lower to middle Texas coastal plain.”
It was not yet known if the San Antonio region would benefit from much, if any, of the rain, considering the storm’s track, which took it through Deep South Texas. The lack of rain has become all the more serious as water levels in the Edwards Aquifer continue to drop and water restrictions on area residents intensify.
Rain amounts from TS Hanna have decreased slightly across our northern counties, after the forecast track was adjusted southward over the past 24 hours. Despite lower forecast rain totals, nearly all areas should expect to see some bands of showers and storms over the weekend. pic.twitter.com/np97asgCkB
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) July 24, 2020
Hanna’s growth into a hurricane may improve those rain chances for San Antonio. But it could also intensify the risk of storm damage in the city.
CPS said on Friday it had equipment and personnel on standby in the event of outages caused by damaged transformers and power lines, but the utility company warned that high winds could hamper efforts to restore power.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on Friday that preparations were underway in the Alamo City to prepare shelters in case any evacuations of coastal communities took place.
“We are prepared. We’ve got several hotels coordinated in the event that we need to relieve evacuees,” he explained, “but we are in the danger zone in so many ways with regard to the storm and the threat of increased transmission if we were to have a lot of activity coming here. So we’re asking everybody to be on guard.”
The National Hurricane Center also monitored Tropical Storm Gonzalo as it approached the eastern Caribbean. By Friday afternoon, its chances of becoming a hurricane had faded.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Joey Palacios, Dominic Anthony, Fernando Ortiz Jr. and the Texas Newsroom’s Rebecca Fogel contributed to this report.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.
Maria Mendez can be reached at Maria@tpr.org and on Twitter at @anxious_maria. She’s a corps member of Report For America.
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