FEMA, Trump Approve Hurricane Hanna Relief Request From Gov. Abbott | Texas Public Radio

FEMA, Trump Approve Hurricane Hanna Relief Request From Gov. Abbott

Jul 26, 2020

A South Texas region exhausted by a months-long struggle with COVID-19, drought and economic distress now marshaled its resources to endure one more massive challenge: Hanna, the first Atlantic hurricane of 2020. The cyclone made two landfalls Saturday evening and spent the weekend tormenting the region with damaging winds, torrential rains and widespread flooding.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Saturday for 32 counties affected by Hanna, including Bexar County.

On Sunday, Abbott announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and President Donald Trump granted a Federal Emergency Declaration in the wake of Hanna.

Abbott said FEMA will provide reimbursement for mass care, evacuation and shelter support at 75% federal funding.

More than 155,000 people were out of power in South Texas Sunday morning as Hurricane Hanna moved inland overnight and weakened back into a Tropical Storm. The National Hurricane Center, or NHC, reported Sunday morning that although Hanna is now a Tropical Storm, heavy rainfall, strong winds, flash flooding and tornadoes remain a threat. 

The NHC reported on Saturday that "Hanna is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches through Monday in south Texas and into the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and northern Tamaulipas. This rain will produce life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor to moderate river flooding. Hanna is also expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain along the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts."

The NHC reported Saturday that Hanna's centerpoint, or its eye, made a first landfall around 5 p.m. north of Port Mansfield once it reached Padre Island.

Aircraft sent into the storm measured maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. Weather stations from Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi to Baffin Bay measured gusts ranging between 62 and 84 mph.

At 6:15 p.m., Hanna made a second landfall in eastern Kenedy County once the eye reached mainland Texas.

Hanna's sustained wind strength placed it in the lowest of five hurricane categories, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It was downgraded back to Tropical Storm status around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

The storm continued along its forecasted track as it moved farther inland over southern Texas into northeastern Mexico on Sunday.

Credit National Hurricane Center

The Coastal Bend

Damage reports are starting to come in from the Texas coast. Amanda Steffen, owner of the Sunset House Motel and RV Resort, rode out the storm in Port Mansfield.

Port Mansfield took a near direct hit from Hurricane Hanna, which is now moving westward into northeastern Mexico.
Credit Courtesy of Amanda Steffen

"There's a lot of water in the ditches. There are shingles everywhere, palm trees down, roofs ripped off. Actually, there was an RV that was in our path back here, that roof over two different times. It rolled to the left. And then when the wind switched, it rolled to the right. And it's pretty destroyed," Steffen said.

Power is out and the water is not working either in the town. Port Mansfield took a near direct hit from Hurricane Hanna, which is now moving westward into northeastern Mexico.

The end of the landmark Bob Hall Pier near Corpus Christi collapsed as Hanna pounded the coast. Storm surge waters filled the Corpus Christi marina and flooded city parks. The storm surge even sent waves smashing up against Corpus Christi's art museum.

Nueces County issued a declaration of local disaster on Saturday afternoon. Rockport police reported flood waters and debris on Fulton Beach Road.

Videos filmed in Corpus Christi and shared on social media showed gawkers standing in parks along Shoreline Boulevard or on the seawall lurching through strong winds, soaked from the steady rain or from the mist sheared off the large gray-white waves.

Other people took selfies of themselves, with the violently choppy waters of Corpus Christi Bay serving as a backdrop for their drenched faces. Others stood smiling next to the statue of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla.

Five to ten inches of rain was possible for the Corpus Christi area and Deep South Texas, with isolated spots receiving up to 15 inches through Monday.

The Rio Grande Valley

Hurricane conditions were reported in South Padre Island in Cameron County, and structural damage was seen in Port Mansfield in Willacy County on Saturday afternoon.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. released a statement on Sunday summarizing the damage within the county. As of Sunday morning, 45,000 homes experienced power outages. Multiple roads were closed off due to flooding and several as a precaution.

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“Cameron County residents, in the last two days we faced a dual emergency situation, COVID-19 and Hurricane Hanna. Now more than ever we need to remain safe, stay home, and avoid unnecessary travel. Our County was affected drastically as we have power lines down, extreme flooding in some areas, and were hit with a Tornado near the Brownsville airport area,” the statement reads.

The region saw severe flooding overnight into Sunday morning.

On Sunday, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez released a statement that reported 8–12 increase of rain across the county. He said the county’s drainage system is at capacity, but flowing well. It will take up to two days to drain all the water.

A tornado watch is in effect for the area until 10 p.m. Sunday night.

Despite flooding and heavy winds, there were no fatalities overnight, but Cortez said people are being evacuated. In a statement, Cortes said there were many stranded vehicles and that power lines and transformers are down.

Cortez also cautioned of the flooding:

“We ask that you stay home while streets remain flooded. Do not drive through flooded streets and do not drive around barricades. Even one foot of water can hide dangers to drivers.”

On Saturday, Cortez declared a local state of disaster because of the "expected catastrophic flooding." The declaration took effect immediately, the county said, and would last for at least one week.

In Laredo and Webb County, officials took a moment on Friday from fighting the COVID-19 outbreak to address the new challenge from Mother Nature.

"Not only do we have to worry about this, but we have to worry about a tropical depression that’s hit the Gulf, and we are in preparations for that," said Ramiro Elizondo, Laredo's interim fire chief and emergency manager, early on Friday.

Laredo City Manager Robert Eads urged residents to hunker down at home to avoid straining the city’s resources.

"Just as important is ... Hanna because it affects our community," he said, "which affects our response rates as well. So when you have a huge surge in water that is just concerning at a lot of different levels."

In Brownsville, officials offered sandbags to residents to protect their homes in low-lying areas from possible flooding. Officials in McAllen also handed out sandbags.

Gov. Greg Abbott reported that the state had resources on standby in anticipation of severe weather affecting the Coastal Bend, the upper Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Hill Country.

Across the Rio Grande, the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has also been hit with heavy rains and winds. Officials from the Resource Center in Matamoros have created an evacuation plan in case weather worsens.

San Antonio

As of Saturday afternoon, San Antonio region saw little benefit from the tropical weather. By then, most of the city saw only isolated showers and breezy sunny weather. But more rain was possible Saturday evening and Sunday.

The overall lack of rain has become all the more serious as water levels in the Edwards Aquifer continue to drop and water restrictions on area residents intensify.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on Friday that the Alamo City prepared shelters in case any evacuations of coastal communities took place.

On Saturday evening, the City of San Antonio announced that Freeman Coliseum was opened "as a reception center for Hurricane evacuees. Anyone who arrives there will be given information about hotels that have availability. Freeman is not serving as a shelter as this time."

Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Joey Palacios, Dominic Anthony and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.
Maria Mendez can be reached at Maria@tpr.org and on Twitter at @anxious_maria. She's a corps member of Report For America.

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