HOUSTON (AP) — South Texas — an area already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks — was bracing for Tropical Storm Hanna to make landfall Saturday.
Local officials said they were prepared for whatever may come, with Hanna expected to strengthen into a hurricane before coming ashore near Corpus Christi sometime Saturday afternoon or early evening.
“And 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," said Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb. "We can do these two things together and we’re going to win both of them."
Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, one of several COVID-19 hot spots in Texas. Officials in Nueces County, home to 362,000 people, said this week that 60 infants tested positive for the virus from July 1 to July 16.
In Cameron County, which borders Mexico, 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.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, the county’s top elected official, said he was awaiting word Friday of whether hotels would be used to house recovering COVID-19 patients in order to free up hospital beds.
“If there’s any benefit to be gained from this, it’s that people have to stay at home for a weekend," Treviño said.
Officials reminded residents to wear masks if they needed to get supplies at stores, or if they had to shelter with neighbors in case of flooding.
Hanna was about 165 miles (270 kilometers) east of Corpus Christi, according to the 10 p.m. CDT Friday advisory from the National Hurricane Center. It had maximum sustained winds around 65 mph (100 kph) but was expected to intensify as forecasters issued a hurricane warning for parts of the Texas coast.
The main hazard from Hanna was expected to be flash flooding, said Chris Birchfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville. Areas of South Texas could see a rang of 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 centimeters) of rain, with some parts possibly getting up to 15 inches (38 centimenters). But the storm was also expected to have wind gusts up to 90 mph (145 kph).
Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to 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. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that various resources to respond to the tropical storm are on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.
Treviño said shelters would socially distance families if any need to evacuate.
In the Mexican city of Matamoros, located across the border from Brownsville, volunteers worried whether the tropical storm would impact a makeshift migrant camp near the Rio Grande River with about 1,300 asylum seekers, including newborn babies and elderly residents, who are waiting under the U.S. immigration policy informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”
Erin Hughes, a volunteer at the camp who is a civil engineer from Philadelphia, said tropical storms pose a devastating threat since the camp is located on a floodplain, and she and others were monitoring the river's water level.
Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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