CORPUS CHRISTI • Already battered by the coronavirus pandemic, south-east Texas faced a new but no less frightening foe on Saturday as Hurricane Hanna slammed the coast with heavy rain and powerful winds.
Hanna strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane, becoming the first hurricane to hit the southern coastal region of Texas since Hurricane Harvey struck the area in August 2017 and caused the worst rainstorm in US history.
Hanna’s eye made landfall on Padre Island, about 96km north of the US-Mexico border, at about 5pm on Saturday, with winds of 145kmh.
As the National Weather Service warned that the strong winds could peel roofs from homes, mangle trees and cause power failures, mayors and local officials turned from one crisis mode to another.
The cities and counties in the path of Hanna are some of the same communities that have seen a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations as Texas has become one of the largest hot spots in the country.
In a state that is no stranger to bad weather, the typical hurricane preparation ritual was altered by social distancing and face coverings, with fever checks required to enter officials’ news briefings and sandbag distribution provided by workers who covered their faces in masks and bandannas.
Mr W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio would be converted into a reception centre for people who had fled their homes.
Hanna was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday by the US National Hurricane Centre, but it was still packing winds of around 115kmh.
“Hanna is expected to produce heavy rain across portions of southern Texas and north-eastern Mexico. The rain will result in life-threatening flash flooding (and some river flooding),” meteorologists said earlier.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Douglas was nearing landfall in Hawaii yesterday and could bring deadly winds and rain to the islands, said the National Hurricane Centre.
Despite that, residents on Maui were characteristically relaxed about the storm. “We are bringing in the lawn chairs and putting big rocks on some roofing material we just bought,” said Mr Chuck Boerner, a 74-year-old farmer from Kipahulu, in east Maui.
Hawaii has a fraction of the tourists it would normally have at this time of year because of the coronavirus pandemic, making things somewhat easier for emergency planners.
“If there are any positives in this situation, it is that there are fewer visitors to be accountable for, fewer people to worry about,” said Mr Chris Sugidono, a public information officer for Maui County.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS