Hanna Drenches Deep South Texas

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A South Texas region exhausted by a months-long struggle with COVID-19, drought and economic distress now marshaled its resources to endure one more massive challenge: Hanna, the first Atlantic hurricane of 2020. The cyclone made two landfalls Saturday evening and spent the weekend tormenting the region with damaging winds, torrential rains and widespread flooding.

More than 168,000 people were out of power in South Texas Sunday morning as Hurricane Hanna moved inland overnight and weakened back into a Tropical Storm. The National Hurricane Center, or NHC, reported Sunday morning that although Hanna is now a Tropical Storm, heavy rainfall, strong winds, flash flooding, and tornadoes remain a threat.  

The NHC reported Saturday that Hanna’s centerpoint, or its eye, made a first landfall around 5 p.m. north of Port Mansfield once it reached Padre Island.

Aircraft sent into the storm measured maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. Weather stations from Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi to Baffin Bay measured gusts ranging between 62 and 84 mph.

At 6:15 p.m., Hanna made a second landfall in eastern Kenedy County once the eye reached mainland Texas.

Hanna’s sustained wind strength placed it in the lowest of five hurricane categories, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It was downgraded back to Tropical Storm status around 1:30am Sunday.

The storm continued along its forecasted track as it moved farther inland over southern Texas  into northeastern Mexico on Sunday.

The Coastal Bend

The end of the landmark Bob Hall Pier near Corpus Christi collapsed as Hanna pounded the coast. Storm surge waters filled the Corpus Christi marina and flooded city parks. The storm surge even sent waves smashing up against Corpus Christi’s art museum.

Nueces County issued a declaration of local disaster on Saturday afternoon.

Radar indicated a possible tornado between Sinton and Refugio, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

Rockport police reported flood waters and debris on Fulton Beach Road.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb, who oversees a city of 325,000 people, told residents that if they moved to higher ground, they should take their COVID-19 masks with them.

“Everywhere you go, keep your mask on,” he said. “And if you’re in a home that is overly crowded because of conditions of everybody gathering to protect themselves from the storm, wear the mask in the house. I know that probably sounds kinda crazy, but keeping safe sounds pretty good.”

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.

Videos filmed in Corpus Christi and shared on social media showed gawkers standing 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.

Other people took selfies of themselves, with the violently choppy waters of Corpus Christi Bay serving as a backdrop for their drenched faces. Others stood smiling next to the statue of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla.

Despite the worsening conditions, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales also remained confident and positive. She said the COVID-19 outbreak prepared residents for hurricane survival.

“We all know how to stay at home now,” she said. “Well, this is Mother Nature’s stay at home order for all of us.”

Canales advised residents in flood prone communities in western and northern Nueces County to remain home through Sunday morning.

Five to ten inches of rain was possible for the Corpus Christi area and Deep South Texas, with isolated spots receiving up to 15 inches through Monday.

The Rio Grande Valley

Hurricane conditions were reported in South Padre Island in Cameron County, and structural damage was seen in Port Mansfield in Willacy County on Saturday afternoon.

The region saw severe flooding overnight into Sunday morning. 

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.

And then, hours later, Cortez declared a local state of disaster because of the “expected catastrophic flooding.” The declaration took effect immediately, the county said, and would last for at least one week.

“Maintain at least 6 feet between you and persons who are not part of your immediate family while at the shelter,” he said. “Avoid crowds… as much possible. This COVID-19, as you know, is very contagious.”

Hidalgo County has been a hotspot for the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 14,000 cases reported. The county ranks sixth in the state with the most confirmed cases.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, a health official with Hidalgo County, admitted he was worried that Hanna could further exacerbate problems and put more stress on their health care system.

“This, of course, would create unimaginable tragedy if there was significant flooding, structural damages or loss of life,” he said.

Melendez said the only positive aspect of this experience with the hurricane is that it will require residents to shelter at home. That is key, he explained, to getting the outbreak under control.

In Laredo and Webb County, officials took a moment on Friday 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.

Laredo City Manager Robert Eads urged residents to hunker down at home to avoid straining the city’s resources.

“Just as important is … 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, officials offered 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.

On Saturday, he issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties affected by Hanna, including Bexar County.

In Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, about a thousand asylum seekers lived in tents at a migrant camp. Some have lived there for almost a year as they wait for their immigration cases to unfold in U.S. 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 weather condtions worsen they will hear a horn that will indicate that they need to leave the camp. An evacuation route has already been established.

San Antonio

The NHC explained on Saturday that “Hanna is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches through Monday in south Texas and into the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and northern Tamaulipas. This rain will produce life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor to moderate river flooding. Hanna is also expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain along the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts.”

As of Saturday afternoon, San Antonio region saw little benefit from the tropical weather. By then, most of the city saw only isolated showers and breezy sunny weather. But more rain was possible Saturday evening and Sunday.

The overall 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.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on Friday that the Alamo City prepared shelters in case any evacuations of coastal communities took place.

On Saturday evening, the City of San Antonio announced that Freeman Coliseum was opened “as a reception center for Hurricane evacuees. Anyone who arrives there will be given information about hotels that have availability. Freeman is not serving as a shelter as this time.”

Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Joey Palacios, Dominic Anthony and Fernando Ortiz Jr. 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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