Tropical Storm Hanna lashed the Texas Gulf Coast on Sunday with high winds and drenching rains that destroyed boats, flooded streets and knocked out power across a region already reeling from a surge in coronavirus cases.
Hanna was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm and passed over the US-Mexico border with winds near 50mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
It unloaded more than 12 inches (30 cm) of rain on parts of South Texas and north-eastern Mexico.
Border communities whose health care systems were already strained by COVID-19 cases — with some patients being airlifted to larger cities — found themselves under siege from the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths on either side of the border.
Henry Van De Putte, CEO of the Red Cross’ Texas Gulf Coast chapter, said the organization would open more shelters with reduced capacity to ensure social distancing. Volunteers and people seeking refuge will undergo temperature checks, and a medical professional will be assigned to each location, he said.
A community building known as the “Dome” in Mercedes, Texas, was set aside for evacuees who had tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus. Across the region, shelters were also opened in hotels, schools and gyms.
Van De Putte emphasized that people should not delay seeking help because of the virus.
“Yes, coronavirus provides risk, but so does floodwater, so does not having electricity, so does not having required medications,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can do possible to make it a safe environment.”
In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, a maternity hospital was damaged by heavy rain, and water had to be pumped out, authorities said. Some patients had to be moved to upper floors, and a few were evacuated to other hospitals, said Pedro Granados, director of civil protection for Tamaulipas state.
Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to account for the virus, and Hanna was the first big test. Gov. Greg Abbott said Saturday that some people in need of shelter would be given hotel rooms to keep them apart from others.
Abbott announced Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved an emergency declaration that will provide federal aid.
Hanna blew ashore as a Category 1 storm late Saturday afternoon with winds of 90 mph (145 kph) not far from Port Mansfield, which is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) south of Corpus Christi.
Myrle Tucker, 83, tried to ride out the storm in a powerboat docked in a Corpus Christi marina. But winds and rain blew out the vessel’s windows. Eventually rescuers in a dinghy were able to reach him and bring him to shore. Many other boats were flooded and lashed by the storm.
Tucker said he told his rescuers he wasn’t sure he would be able to climb out of his boat.
“They picked me up,” he said. “They carried me like a box of napkins.”
More than 150,000 customers lost power Sunday throughout South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Harlingen and Brownsville, utility officials said.