CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A day after roaring ashore as a hurricane, 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.
Downgraded to a tropical storm, Hanna hovered over the U.S.-Mexico border with winds near 50 mph (85 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to unload as much as 18 inches of rain (45 centimetres) on parts of South Texas and northeastern Mexico.
Border communities whose health care systems were already strained by COVID-19 cases — with some patients being airlifted to larger cities — found themselves grappling with Hanna.
Dr. Ivan Melendez, the health authority in Hidalgo County, Texas, was treating a patient overnight at a hospital when he noticed water pooling on the floor.
“I thought, ‘Hey, something’s leaking,’” Melendez said. “The nurse looks at me and says, ‘Look behind you.’ I look and see this water coming and coming and coming down the wall.”
The water was flowing through a vent in the room, which had been retrofitted with a fan to create negative pressure and prevent the virus spreading through the hospital.
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After driving home in the storm in the middle of the night, Melendez was trapped Sunday morning in his home by downed trees and had no electricity. He used the phone to discuss whether to place a 58-year-old woman on a ventilator, a decision he felt uncomfortable making without seeing the patient in person.
“You look at the people’s eyes,” he said. “You’ll know if they’re in despair.”
A community building known as the “Dome” in the border town of Mercedes 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.
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.
He 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.”
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.
The first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season 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.
Parts of South Texas had gotten at least 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain, including Cameron County, which includes Brownsville.