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Hurricanes bear down on Texas and Hawaii as Hanna prepares to make landfall in Corpus Christi

A hurricane that is expected to dump as much as 18 inches of rain in parts of Texas is about to make landfall in Corpus Christi on Saturday while Hawaii geared up on Saturday to face a similarly menacing storm hurricane that threatened to pummel the islands with dangerous surf, strong winds and flash floods.

Hurricane Hanna rumbled toward the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, lashing the shoreline with wind gusts, rain and storm surge, and even threatening to bring possible tornadoes to a part of the country trying to cope with a spike in coronavirus cases.

The storm, which is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to make landfall late Saturday afternoon or early evening south of Corpus Christi, the US National Hurricane Center said. 

As of late Saturday morning, it had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was centered about 85 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and was moving west at 7 mph. 

Many parts of Texas, including the area where Hanna was expected to come ashore, have been dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but local officials said they were prepared for whatever the storm may bring.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said Saturday that he had seen some residents doing last-minute shopping for supplies, but he warned that if that hadn’t been done already, people should stay at home and ride out the storm.

‘We’ve been staying at home for five months because of the corona(virus). … So staying home doesn’t sound real popular, but right now this is a real important matter,’ McComb said adding that residents should remember to wear masks if they have to evacuate their homes.

Judge Barbara Canales, Nueces County’s top elected official, said officials were highly concerned about storm surge that was already moving inland.

Live webcam footage showed waves sweeping over popular Whitecap Beach near Corpus Christi hours before the hurricane was expected to make landfall.

First responders in Corpus Christi proactively placed barricades near intersections to have them ready to go if streets began to flood, McComb said. More than 9,100 people in the Corpus Christi area were without power early Saturday afternoon, according to AEP Texas.

Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, where health officials made headlines when they revealed that 60 infants tested positive for COVID-19 from July 1 to July 16.

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.

The main hazard from Hanna was expected to be flash flooding. 

Forecasters said Hanna could bring 6 to 12 inches of rain through Sunday night – with isolated totals of 18 inches – in addition to coastal swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to account for the virus, and Hanna loomed as the first big test.

South Texas officials’ plans for any possible rescues, shelters and monitoring of the storm will have the pandemic in mind and incorporate social distancing guidelines and mask wearing. 

Governor Greg Abbott said various resources to respond to the storm were on standby across the state, including search-and-rescue teams and aircraft.

In the Mexican city of Matamoros, located across the border from Brownsville, volunteers were keeping a close eye on Hanna, worried that the storm could affect a makeshift migrant camp near the Rio Grande where about 1,300 asylum seekers, including newborn babies and elderly residents, have been waiting under the US immigration policy informally known as ‘Remain in Mexico.’

Tornadoes were also possible Saturday for parts of the lower to middle Texas coastal plain, forecasters said Friday.

A hurricane warning remained in effect for Port Mansfield to Mesquite Bay, which is north of Corpus Christi, and a tropical storm warning was in effect from Port Mansfield south to Barra el Mezquital, Mexico, and from Mesquite Bay north to High Island, Texas.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was still on track to move across the southern Windward Islands on Saturday afternoon or evening. 

Gonzalo was moving west near 18 mph with maximum sustained winds at 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning.

Gonzalo is forecast to bring 1 to 3 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 5 inches. 

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.

Authorities issued a hurricane warning Friday for residents along the coast after record-breaking Tropical Storm Hanna gained strength as it hurtled through the Gulf of Mexico. 

Hanna was expected to make landfall in Texas as a hurricane at the same time as Hurricane Douglas is forecast to descend on Hawaii. 

Hurricane Douglas was 440 miles east of Hilo early Saturday It was packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane.

The National Weather Service forecasts Douglas will weaken as it passes over cooler waters and encounters wind shear closer to the Hawaiian Islands. 

Meteorologists predict it will be near-hurricane strength as it nears the Hawaiian Islands Saturday and Sunday.

‘The current path of Hurricane Douglas is going to be really close to the islands and it may make landfall,’ National Weather Service meteorologist Vanessa Almanza said Saturday. 

‘So at this moment, we still don’t know if there’s going to be a direct hit. Either way, impacts will be felt.’

The coronavirus was complicating preparations for the American Red Cross, which operates emergency shelters on behalf of local governments.

Many volunteers who normally staff the shelters are staying home because they are older or have pre-existing health conditions that put them at higher risk of getting severely sick if infected by the virus.

At the same time, each shelter will have less capacity because of the physical distancing requirements to prevent the spread of the disease, and more shelters (and workers) will be needed to accommodate people.

Shelters will need 60 square feet per person or family instead of the 10 square feet per person needed in the past.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said his county won’t open as many shelters for Douglas as a result of the staffing situation. 

But he still expects to have enough room for those who need to evacuate because there are so few tourists visiting during the pandemic. Travelers are normally some of the biggest users of Maui’s shelters during hurricanes.

The CEO of the Pacific Islands region of the American Red Cross was understanding of those uncomfortable about volunteering during the pandemic. Diane Peters-Nguyen put out a call for others who might be able to help.

‘We do ask people to think about that and take care of themselves and their family first. But if they’re able, we really appreciate those that can, to respond,’ she said.

Hawaii has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation, but COVID-19 numbers have been rising in recent weeks. 

On Thursday and Friday, the state reported 55 and 60 new confirmed cases, both of which were record highs.

At Pearl Harbor, the Navy began moving ships and submarines out to sea where they will stay until the threat from the storm subsides. 

The Navy will either secure its aircraft in hangars or fly them to other airfields.

Hawaiian Airlines canceled all Sunday flights and some Saturday flights between Honolulu and the other islands.

Hawaii is used to stocking up on food and other essentials to ride out hurricanes. 

Yet in one sense it is ill-prepared for the storms because so many of Hawaii’s single-family homes are older structures built before building codes were changed in the 1990s to take account of hurricane hazards.

A 2015 state report warned that these homes ‘will be vulnerable to structural collapse under a hurricane’s high wind pressures and wind-borne debris’ unless they have been retrofitted.

Hawaii has been spared the worst in recent years as major hurricanes either weakened as they approached or skirted the main islands all together.

In 2018, Hurricane Lane came toward the state as a Category 5 storm and dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the Big Island, which is mostly rural. Forecasts had called for Lane to slam into Honolulu but strong wind shear largely broke up the storm just south of the state’s biggest city.

Hurricane Iniki made landfall on Kauai as a Category 4 hurricane in 1992. More than 41% of the island’s homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm. 

The storms come as both Hawaii and Texas are grappling with a rise in coronavirus cases, with officials branding the oncoming dangerous weather systems as ‘a potential disaster inside of a current disaster’.  

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that in ‘non-pandemic world’ the city prepares 10 square feet per person at shelters. 

But in order to have 6 feet of physical distancing between people, it must allow 60 square feet per person or family.

‘We need more shelter space. And with more shelter space, we need more people to staff those shelters. And we’re working on that right now,’ Caldwell said. The city plans to announce a list of shelters later on Friday.

Hawaii leaders have been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about potentially housing evacuees in hotels, but nothing concrete has been decided yet. Caldwell said such an arrangement may not come together in time for Douglas´ arrival but might be in place for the next storm.

Many of Hawaii’s hotels have empty rooms or are completely closed because the pandemic has shut off most travel to the islands.

State officials in Hawaii also have been urging residents for months to incorporate hand sanitizer and face masks into their usual emergency kits containing two weeks worth of food, water, batteries and other supplies.

Caldwell urged people to get groceries for those who can’t afford to go shopping for 14 days of food at once when so many residents are out of work because of the pandemic.

‘It’s the time to look at ourselves as one big ohana working with each other,’ Caldwell said, using the Hawaiian word for family.

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