Hurricane Hanna lashes Texas as US state faces coronavirus crisis

Year's first Atlantic hurricane forces officials to arrange shelters and evacuation while maintaining social distancing.

    Jame Rowles examines the damage after the docks at the marina where his boat was secured were destroyed as Hurricane Hanna made landfall in Corpus Christi, Texas [Eric Gay/AP Photo]
    Jame Rowles examines the damage after the docks at the marina where his boat was secured were destroyed as Hurricane Hanna made landfall in Corpus Christi, Texas [Eric Gay/AP Photo]

    Hurricane Hanna has pummelled the southern coast of Texas in the United States overnight with howling winds and a surging sea that threatens a broad area already contending with a spike in coronavirus cases.

    Hanna, the first hurricane in the 2020 Atlantic storm season, has forced authorities to arrange shelters and evacuation for people while also maintaining physical distancing protocols and other pandemic restrictions.

    By nightfall on Saturday, Hanna's blistering winds were ripping up the Texas coast near Corpus Christi.

    A storm surge was expected to hit a 482-km (300-mile) stretch of shoreline, from the town of Sargent in the north to Port Mansfield in the south, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

    The NHC forecast that Hanna would lose steam as it moved inland across Texas and northeastern Mexico overnight into Sunday.

    But the storm could dump upward of 18 inches of rain in the area through Monday. That could cause life-threatening flash floods, while the storm could spawn tornadoes on the coastal plains.

    Hanna, a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, came ashore on Padre Island on Saturday afternoon and later made a second landfall in Eastern Kennedy County, Texas.

    'Complicated challenge'

    "Any hurricane is an enormous challenge," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said during a Saturday briefing. "This challenge is complicated and made even more severe, seeing that it's sweeping through an area that is the most-challenged area in the state for COVID-19."

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    Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in Texas that are in the storm's path.

    On Saturday afternoon, the storm was about 121km (75 miles) south of the city of Corpus Christi, packing maximum sustained winds of 138km (85 miles) an hour, the NHC said.

    "The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the Miami-based NHC said.

    The storm is not expected to affect offshore oil and gas production. Energy companies have not evacuated workers or shut down production from their Gulf of Mexico platforms.

    Coronavirus cases soar

    The Texas area struck by Hanna has struggled to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

    Cases along the state's coast have soared into the tens of thousands, and more than 400 people in Corpus Christi, a city of 325,000 people, were hospitalised with the novel coronavirus on Friday, according to city data.

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    Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb warned residents who live in flood-prone areas to heed coronavirus precautions when deciding to evacuate.

    "Take several masks with you because you might be there a couple days if you're in a flood area," McComb said, according to the Tribune.

    "We don't want to expose anyone during this storm. ... Even when you're in the house, I recommend wearing a mask if you're in crowded conditions."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies