McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As Hurricane Hanna’s strong bands of wind and rain began to rip through the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced medical and emergency personnel were being sent to the South Texas border region, an area that is the worst hit in the state with COVID-19 cases.
The Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 90 mph was teetering just 5 mph under the threshold for a Category 2 and had nearly doubled in strength in the past 24 hours as it suddenly veered west over the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall around 5 p.m. on Padre Island, Texas.
A tropical storm warning and a flood watch were in effect in for all of the Rio Grande Valley — from Cameron County on the Gulf Coast to rural Starr County.
The city of McAllen, about 65 miles from the Gulf, could take a direct hit from heavy rains on the western edge of the storm as it slowly rolls inland, weather forecasters were predicting. As much as 6 to 15 inches of rain were predicted to be dumped on Hidalgo and Cameron counties, low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.
These areas also are some of the worst-hit with coronavirus cases right now. Hospitals in the region are overflowing with patients and not enough medical staff to meet the caseload. In a televised address Saturday afternoon, Abbott urged residents not to add to the calamity.
Because of the hurricane, Abbott on Saturday issued a disaster declaration for 32 Texas counties, but stressed that the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is most at risk. He also requested a federal emergency disaster declaration from President Donald Trump for public assistance for communities.
“This is the most challenged area of the state,” Abbott said. “Just because a hurricane comes to the state does not mean COVID-19 disappears. This is a time in response of a hurricane when people come together, to shelter, as close family, as friends … that coming together will continue to provide the ability for COVID-19 to transmit from one person to another.”
“We cannot allow this hurricane to lead to a more catastrophically deadly event by stoking additional spread of COVID-19 that could lead to fatalities,” Abbott said.
We cannot allow this hurricane to lead to a more catastrophically deadly event by stoking additional spread of COVID-19 that could lead to fatalities.”Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Abbott urged residents not to congregate together and to maintain social distancing practices to stop the spread of the novel deadly virus. “That coming together will continue to provide a way for COVID-19 to spread,” Abbott said.
“The Rio Grande Valley is an area where people should expect to experience flash-flooding and high-level flooding,” Abbott said.
The National Guard was sending personnel, as well as boats, helicopters and medical workers, Abbott said. The Texas military division also was sending 17 mobile-testing teams to be dispatched to shelters in the region where people were taking cover to ensure the virus would not spread.
Hidalgo County, where McAllen is located, on Friday reported 23 more COVID-19-related deaths and 564 new cases, bringing the total of number of cases to 15,153 since the start of the pandemic in a county of just 860,000.
Cameron County reported 16 deaths on Friday and 324 new cases of COVID-19.
Brownsville, the largest city in Cameron County, was predicted to receive up to 15 inches of rain overnight and into Sunday from the hurricane. And there were concerns for migrants living across the Rio Grande in a tent facility in Matamoros, Mexico.
By 4 p.m. KVEO meteorologists were reporting down power lines, blocked roads and structural damage as conditions were deteriorating as heavy rains pummeled coastal areas near Port Mansfield.
Above, residents take advantage on Saturday of free sandbags that were given out to thousands at several sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley, including McAllen and Weslaco, Texas. The above photos also show water rising in canals as palm trees sway in the background. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a proclamation declaring a local state of disaster due to the expected catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Hanna.
Electricity was out to at least 1,400 residents and several shelters were open in the area on Saturday evening.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.