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Hurricane's Fallout Batters Texas As The Region Confronts A COVID-19 Spike

Hurricane Hanna is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane Hanna is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

Updated at 5:15 a.m. ET Sunday

South Texas is braced for flooding after Hurricane Hanna began battering the state. The first hurricane of the season made landfall twice Saturday as a Category 1 storm.

The first landfall happened at around 5 p.m. about 15 miles north of Port Mansfield, which is about 130 miles south of Corpus Christi, according to the National Weather service. The second landfall took place nearby in eastern Kenedy County. The storm arrived with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

Forecasters early Sunday downgraded Hanna to a tropical storm. But Chris Birchfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, told The Associated Press that residents needed to remain alert. Hanna's winds weakened, but the storm's real threat remained heavy rainfall.

"We're not even close to over at this point," Birchfield added. "We're still expecting catastrophic flooding."

The storm is expected to bring heavy rainfall to Texas' southern coast with the potential for "life-threatening flash flooding," according to the National Weather Service.

The center warned of storm surges as high as 5 feet along Texas' southern coast and said the upper coasts of Texas and Louisiana could expect 3-5 inches of rain. Isolated tornadoes could also appear.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier in the week that the Texas Division of Emergency Management was preparing teams to help communities affected by the storm. He urged residents in the region to avoid roads that flood and listen to local warnings.

On Saturday, prior to the storm making landfall, Abbott issued a disaster declaration and said he had requested an emergency declaration from President Trump and FEMA.

"As Hurricane Hanna approaches, the Lone Star State is taking swift action to support the communities in the path of the storm," Abbott said. "We are closely monitoring the situation and working with local officials to help ensure they have the resources they need to keep Texans safe. I urge Texans in the region to take all necessary precautions and follow the guidance of local officials. I ask our fellow Texans to keep these communities in their prayers as they brace for this storm."

The city of Corpus Christi in Nueces County, which is already dealing with a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases, was among the communities bracing on Saturday for Hanna's arrival. On Friday, Nueces County reported 175 new cases of the coronavirus and five deaths. Of the county's 129 COVID-19 deaths, 119 of them have come in July, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Ahead of the storm's landfall, the city closed at least one drive-through testing site through Tuesday, according to The Texas Tribune.

As Hurricane Hanna approaches, Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said he felt certain that the region is prepared to handle both the storm and the pandemic.

"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," McComb told The Associated Press.

But McComb's comments also reflected the realities of the pandemic as he urged residents to take masks with them if they have to evacuate and stay with others.

"We don't want to expose anyone during this storm. ... Even when you're in the house, I recommend wearing a mask if you're in crowded conditions" McComb told The Texas Tribune.

To the south of Corpus Christi in Cameron County, Judge Eddie Treviño told the AP that if families are evacuated to shelters, there are plans in place to make sure they are socially distanced from one another.

As the storm continues to make its path in south Texas, two other storms are being watched closely. Hurricane Douglas is in the Pacific and is expected to either pass nearby or over the main Hawaiian islands sometime Sunday. The National Hurricane Center warned of a "triple threat of hazards," including heavy rainfall and flooding, damaging winds and dangerously high surf.

Farther to the east and south of the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was downgraded to a depression Saturday afternoon. The system brought gusty wind to the southern Windward Islands on Saturday morning. The National Hurricane Center also warned of heavy rainfall with the potential for "life-threatening flash flooding" in the area.

Earlier this year, forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-average hurricane season with at least three to six major hurricanes in 2020.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.