South Texas was braced for flooding on Sunday after Hanna roared ashore as a hurricane, bringing winds that lashed the Gulf Coast with rain and storm surge to a part of the country trying to cope with a spike in coronavirus cases.
The first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic cyclone season made landfall twice as a Category 1 storm on Saturday afternoon within the space of little over an hour.
The first landfall happened at around 5pm local time, about 15 miles (24km) north of Port Mansfield, which is about 130 miles (209km) south of Corpus Christi.
The second took place nearby in eastern Kenedy County, where Hanna came ashore with maximum sustained winds of 90mph (145kph).
Forecasters downgraded Hanna to a tropical storm early on Sunday. The storm had maximum sustained winds at 70mph (115kph), the National Hurricane Centre said.
Many parts of Texas, including areas near where Hanna came ashore, have been dealing with a surge in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, but local officials said they were prepared for whatever the storm might bring.
Chris Birchfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said residents needed to remain alert. Hanna’s winds weakened, but the storm’s real threat remained heavy rain.
“We’re not even close to over at this point,” he said. “We’re still expecting catastrophic flooding.”
Forecasters said Hanna could bring 6in-12in (15cm-30cm) of rain on Sunday night – with isolated totals of 18in (46cm) – in addition to coastal swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
Some areas in South Texas had already reported receiving up to 9in (23cm) of rain, including Cameron County, which borders Mexico and where Brownsville is located. Rainfall totals were expected to rise throughout the evening and into Sunday.
“It’s been all day,” said Melissa Elizardi, a spokeswoman for Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino.
In a tweet, President Donald Trump said his administration was monitoring Hanna, along with Hurricane Douglas, which was heading towards Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
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 at home because of health issues related to chronic lung disease.
“It’s almost like a double whammy to us,” she said. “I think it’s made a lot of people nervous … We’ll get through it. Everybody is good and strong and sticks together.”
Hanna came nearly three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall north-east of Corpus Christi.
Hanna was not expected to be as destructive as Harvey, which killed 68 people and caused an estimated 125 billion US dollars of damage in Texas.
First responders in Corpus Christi proactively placed barricades near intersections to have them ready to go if streets began to flood, Mayor Joe McComb said.
More than 43,700 people throughout South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Harlingen and Brownsville, were without power on Saturday evening, according to AEP Texas.
The US Coast Guard was called to help with the rescue of a couple on a boat that was taking on water in a harbour near Corpus Christi, a spokesman said. A swiftwater rescue team assisted in getting the couple back to land without injuries.
Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, where health officials made headlines when they revealed that 60 infants had tested positive for Covid-19 from July 1 to July 16.
Further south in Cameron County, 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.
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. Cameron County planned to open at least three evacuation shelters. Other counties and cities throughout South Texas had also opened shelters, with many requiring face masks.
Governor Greg Abbott said on 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,” he said.
Various resources and personnel to respond to the storm were on stand-by across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.
Mr Abbott said he has issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in Texas and had asked the federal government to approve a similar declaration.
Tornadoes were also possible overnight on Saturday into Sunday for parts of the lower to middle Texas coastal plain.