Texas braces for year's first hurricane amid coronavirus outbreak

Hurricane Hanna is set to make landfall in the southern US state as Hawaii braces for simultaneous Hurricane Douglas.

    Hurricane Hanna is set to make landfall in Texas on Saturday night [Reuters]
    Hurricane Hanna is set to make landfall in Texas on Saturday night [Reuters]

    The US state of Texas, already dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases, is bracing for the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, which is expected to bring heavy rains, storm surges and possible tornadoes.

    Tropical storm Hanna strengthened and was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane early on Saturday by the US National Hurricane Center, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The hurricane is expected to hit the Texas coast between Corpus Christi and Brownsville later in the day. A storm surge warning was issued for the stretch of the Texas coast from Port Mansfield to Sargent.

    On Friday, residents in several Texas communities in Kleberg County, south of Corpus Christi, were urged to evacuate their homes ahead of the storm's arrival. 

    Hanna was about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Port Mansfield, packing maximum sustained winds of 128 kilometres per hour (80 miles per hour), the department said.

    "Additional strengthening is forecast before Hanna makes landfall later today," the Miami-based forecaster said, adding the hurricane will rapidly weaken after it moves inland. 

    Video footage on Twitter of Port Aransas in Nueces County, Texas showed grey skies and lashing waves that had already engulfed a beach ahead of the storm's landfall. 

    Coronavirus concerns

    The region where the storm is expected to make landfall has struggled to contain the coronavirus in recent weeks, with cases along the coast soaring into the tens of thousands. More than 400 people in Corpus Christi's city of 325,000 were hospitalised with the novel coronavirus on Friday, according to city data.

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

    "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." 

    Farther south 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 Trevino, the county's top elected official, said he was awaiting word on 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," Trevino said. 

    Officials reminded residents to wear masks if they needed to get supplies before the storm arrives or if they have to shelter with neighbours because of flooding. 

    Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to account for the virus.

    South Texas officials' plans for any possible rescues, shelters and monitoring of the storm will have the pandemic in mind, while Governor Greg Abbott said various resources to respond to the storm were on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.

    Gonzalo and Douglas

    Also in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was still on track to move across the southern Windward Islands on Saturday.

    Gonzalo was moving west near 30km/h (18mph) with maximum sustained winds at 65km/h (40mph), the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is forecast to bring 30-80 millimetres of rain with isolated totals of 130mm.

    A tropical storm warning was in effect for Tobago and Grenada and its dependencies. The storm was expected to dissipate by Sunday night or Monday, forecasters said.

    Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Hurricane Douglas headed towards Hawaii with wind speeds of about 175km/h.

    However, authorities expect the Category 2 hurricane to weaken to the level of a tropical storm before passing close to Hawaii's biggest islands late on Sunday.

    Honolulu authorities were preparing extra shelter space so people can maintain a safe physical distance from others, in line with coronavirus precautions.

    Evacuees at Honolulu shelters will have their temperatures taken, according to officials. Those with high temperatures or with a travel or exposure history will either be isolated at that shelter or taken to a different site.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies