HOUSTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Hanna pummeled the south Texas coast on Saturday night with howling winds and a surging sea that threatened a broad area already contending with an intense spike in coronavirus deaths.
Hanna is the first hurricane for the 2020 Atlantic storm season, which is expected to be unlike any other in recent memory. Authorities will have to contend with sheltering and evacuating people while also maintaining social distancing protocols and other pandemic restrictions.
By nightfall, Hanna's blistering winds were ripping up the Texas coast near Corpus Christi. A deadly storm surge was expected to hit a 300-mile area of the 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 Saturday afternoon and later made a second landfall in Eastern Kennedy County, Texas.
"Any hurricane is an enormous challenge," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said during a Saturday briefing about the storm. "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."
Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in Texas that are in the storm's path.
On Saturday afternoon, the storm was about 75 miles (121 km) south of the city of Corpus Christi, packing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (138 kph), 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 because of Hanna.
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's city of 325,000 were hospitalized 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.
"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."
(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams in Houston, and Brad Brooks in Lubbock; Additional reporting by Shubham Kalia and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, and Gabriella Borter in Fairfield, Connecticut; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)
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