A hurricane bearing down on southern Texas on Saturday began to bring harsh winds and rain to Corpus Christi and the surrounding area, where officials are already struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Powerful winds from Hurricane Hanna, which strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning started to thrash Texas’ coast before noon. Winds could reach up to 110 mph later in the day, the National Weather Service warned, and forecasters were just as worried about a barrage of rainfall and even potential tornadoes.
“There could be damage to buildings and structures, especially if there are any tornadoes,” said Brian Field, a forecaster at the National Weather Service. Forecasters warned that the hurricane could snap large trees, mangle roofs and destroy mobile homes.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for a more than 100-mile-long region on the coast, from Port Mansfield to Mesquite Bay. A storm surge warning reached even farther north, to about 75 miles south of Houston.
The hurricane, the first of the Atlantic season, was churning less than 55 miles off the coast as of noon, and the center of the storm was moving west at about 7 mph. The hurricane’s winds were recorded at 80 mph, and the center of the storm was expected to make landfall Saturday afternoon or evening near Port Mansfield, which is about 40 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The storm’s effects could be felt by Saturday morning, though, when gusts were recorded up to 68 mph at a pier in Corpus Christi and palm trays swayed treacherously in the wind.
Zack Smith, 36, was among several residents who kept a watchful eye on the swelling sea waters at Whitecap Beach.
“Once they start reaching my feet, then I’ll leave,” he said, as he tried to maintain his balance in the wind. “I don’t want to get hit by one of those and get washed out.”
The storm’s trajectory turned south overnight, a trend forecasters said would continue as it neared the coast. They extended a tropical storm warning into Mexico.
And forecasters said Hurricane Hanna’s dangers are many.
The storm could bring up to 1 foot of rain to the region over the weekend, with some areas getting up to 18 inches. The downpour could lead to “life-threatening flash flooding,” forecasters said, and tornadoes were possible Saturday and overnight into Sunday over parts of the coast.
The new threat comes as coronavirus cases have been rising in several counties in the storm’s path. In Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi and is home to about 362,000 people, the number of virus cases and deaths reported each day has trended upward in recent weeks, fueled in part by visitors who flocked to the beach city because of its low case count.
About 10,000 people in the county have been infected with the virus; more than one-fifth of those cases were reported in the past week. At least 124 people have died in Nueces County, and 421 people were being treated for the coronavirus in hospitals Thursday, the highest total since the pandemic began.
“What a combination of events that we’ve had in South Texas,” Robert Rocha, the fire chief in Corpus Christi, said Friday evening. “Corpus Christi in the last month has really been devastated by the effects of COVID-19. On top of that, we have the potential of a hurricane coming our way.”
Rocha said his crews were boarding up some coastal fire stations and preparing for the possibility of having to evacuate some of the more exposed stations, moving firefighters inland.
Hanna is the eighth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific Ocean, a Category 3 hurricane continued to churn toward Hawaii, although forecasters said the hurricane, named Douglas, was likely to weaken significantly as it got closer to the islands.
Hurricane Douglas is expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it nears the eastern end of the Hawaiian islands by Saturday night or Sunday, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center said Friday.
A tropical storm, named Gonzalo, is moving toward the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. It is unlikely to reach hurricane strength, forecasters said.