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Gov. Abbott, Valley state legislative delegation mobilizing Texas’ resources to help region during wind, flooding aftermath of Hurricane Hanna - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: A satellite image of Tropical Storm Hanna on the evening of Friday, July 25, 2020, as it approached South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Hanna was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane  the following day, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. Wind gusts reached up to 110 mph (175 km/h) and storm surge reached as high as seven feet (two m) at landfall. Extensive flooding occurred as a result of rain totals of 6-12 inches in the area – with up to 16 inches in some locations in deep South Texas.

Photograph NASA

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Gov. Abbott, Valley state legislative delegation mobilizing Texas’ resources to help region during wind, flooding aftermath of Hurricane Hanna

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

Gov. Greg  Abbott, along with the Valley’s state legislative delegation, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, pledged to continue sending in state and federal resources needed to help deep South Texas recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna, which hit the region on Saturday, July 26, 2020, bringing maximum sustained winds of 90 mph and wind gusts up to 110 mph.

In addition to being an extreme wind event, which downed utility poles, knocked down trees, and initially cut off electricity to more than 150,000 South Texans, the flooding resulted in rain totals of six to 12 inches in the area, with up to 16 inches in some locations in the region.

“We wanted to come to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to personally observe and make assessments about the damage caused by Hurricane Hanna, as well as to visit with local leaders about how we can help them respond to the hurricane, as well as help them respond to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19,” Abbott said during the Tuesday, July 28, 2020 press conference held at the Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Headquarters in Weslaco.

Joining Abbott at the news conference were, in alphabetical order:

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortéz;
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling;
Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen;
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen;
Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya;
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville;
Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco;
Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission;
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño;
Weslaco Mayor David Suárez; and
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

“Now the goal is to do the best possible to very quickly make assessments about what damages are, about the needs are, and for the State to step up and address those needs,” the governor said. “Bottom line is this: the State of Texas will work with our federal and local partners, as well as private entities to ensure that every health care need of every person in the Rio Grande Valley is going to be met in response to either COVID-19, Hurricane Hanna, or any other crisis situation they are dealing with.”

The governor said that while great attention will remain on Hurricane Hanna and recovery efforts for months to come, no one should let down their guard regarding COVID-19, which continues to infect thousands of Valley residents.

“There’s one thing that I want to emphasize to everyone in the Rio Grande Valley is this: this hurricane has not eliminated COVID-19. COVID-19 still exists in the Rio Grande Valley. It can still be easily transmitted in the Rio Grande Valley,” Abbott said. 

The day after the governor’s press conference in Weslaco, Hidalgo County Judge Cortéz reported that 45 residents died on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, due to COVID-19 complications. Another 287 tested positive for the virus which brings the total number of known positive cases to 16,375.

There were 7,106 net active cases as of that date, and 586 people were released from isolation in Hidalgo County on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, meaning that they have been symptom-free for 10 days, including three days without a fever. Also as of Wednesday, July 29, 2020, there were 881 people hospitalized with complications from the virus; 256 of those cases are being treated in intensive care units. 

“Any type of gathering of just a few people provides an opportunity for COVID to spread from one person to another. It is essential that everybody understand the necessity, now more than ever, to take every precaution that you can to make sure that you do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19, Abbott said, as all the officials and news media personnel at the press conference were wearing face masks. “That means avoiding those gatherings. It means avoid going to bars and settings that put you in proximity to others. It means staying at home, if at all possible.”

Hinojosa, whose Senate District 20 stretches from Hidalgo County to Nueces County, after the news conference expressed continued confidence in the abilities of political, hospital, business, and community leaders to help South Texans recover from Hurricane Hanna.

““We were all on hand for today’s briefing about the extent of the effects of Hurricane Hanna, the COVID-19 situation in the Valley, and what steps can be taken to assist in recovery efforts on both fronts,” the state senator said. “We appreciate the tireless efforts of all our local public officials as we begin to recover from the strong winds and significant flooding caused by Hurricane Hanna.”

As an example, Hinojosa said that Abbott had waived certain commercial trucking relations to help expedite supplies, especially electric power poles to restore power to homes and businesses in the region.

“Additionally, portions of the McAllen Convention Center will be converted into a health care facility to address the immediate needs of our hospital capacities and those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak,” the state senator said.

Abbott provide more details on the plan to temporarily convert the 174,000-square-foot multi-purpose McAllen Convention Center into a high-level medical complex.

“We are announcing – first I want to express my appreciation to Mayor Darling of McAllen – because we are announcing that we are opening up the McAllen Convention Center that will be converted into a health care facility,” Abbott explained. “The maximum number of patients that it could be able to handle will be 250 (two hundred) patients. That maximum number will be determined by the level of acuity (the severity of a hospitalized person’s illness) of particular patients, so it could change.”

Abbott said the McAllen Convention Center, which should be ready to receive patients by Friday, July 31, 2020, is intended to be able to address the local needs that exist in the current hospitals. 

“It comes with hospital beds, medical equipment, and medical staff, in addition to just the location. It is going to be a single location that a large number of patients will be able to go to,” the governor said. “As we work to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is vital that we take the necessary action to ensure abundant hospital capacity in the Rio Grande Valley. This temporary facility in McAllen will lessen the strain on the region’s hospitals until we can contain the virus and bring hospitalizations back down,” Abbott said.

In addition, there are multiple locations that are either open already, or they will be open this week, that will provide additional locations for COVID patients to go to, especially those who are in the recovery mode, he added.

Those locations, called “Step-Down Sites”, will be made available in Laredo (capacity for more than 100 patients), Pharr (capacity 40 patients), Harlingen (no capacity provided by the governor), and in Starr County (no location announced as of the Tuesday, July 28, 2020 press conference by Abbott).

The governor also revealed that additional medical staff are coming to deep South Texas.

“The Department of Defense has deployed additional task forces to communities in the Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley to help COVID-19,” Abbott said. “These are 85-person teams that consist of medical and support professionals who help meet medical needs in hospitals and in the communities of Corpus Christi, Victoria, Harlingen and Edinburg.”

Also on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, an additional U.S. Army Reserve unit had arrived in Harlingen to support Valley Baptist Medical Center and Harlingen Medical Center, he continued, while onWednesday, July 29, 2020, an additional U.S. Army Reserve Unit was scheduled to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley to begin assisting hospital personnel at DHR Health in Edinburg. 

“This is on top of the more than 2,000 medical personnel that we’ve already allocated to this region to assist in the health care needs of this region,” Abbott said. 

The Tuesday, July 28, 2020 press conference, which begins with the governor’s opening remarks, followed by comments from other state officials, local county leaders, and the attending news reporters, is available online at: 

The transcription of the governor’s opening comments at the Tuesday, July 28, 2020 press conference follows:

Gov. Gregg Abbott

Thank you everybody for being here. I’m here with leaders from the state of Texas, including the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. 

We wanted to come to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to personally observe and make assessments about the damage caused by Hurricane Hanna, as well as to visit with local leaders about how we can help them respond to the hurricane, as well as help them respond to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19.

I did have the opportunity to fly over the region and personally observe, in different situations, exactly the magnitude of the damage that took place. Obviously, there was some meaningful wind damage, but perhaps more prolifically, at least today, you can easily observe the flooding damage that continues to plague some many people across the entire region.

The good news, however, is that because of the leadership, of great preparation, because people heeded warnings, the best thing that happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna, there had been no loss of life (due to flooding or storm damage) reported in the three counties which have county judges here today, which are Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr counties. Anytime you can get through a hurricane without the loss of life, that is the primary goal right there.

Now the goal is to do the best possible to very quickly make assessments about what damages are, about the needs are, and for the State to step up and address those needs. With us here also is Tony Robinson. He is the regional administrator for FEMA. FEMA plays a prolific role in responding to hurricanes. 

Actually, FEMA is playing a very big role in helping us respond to COVID, also. So having Tony Robinson in the Rio Grande Valley is very important for him to get to see first-hand about the challenges that exist, the needs that exist, and the funding that is needed to help people in the Rio Grande Valley respond to both of these challenges.

We have with us today (Tuesday, July 28, 2020) the county judges from Hidalgo County, Judge Cortéz, the judge from Cameron County Treviño, the judge from Starr County Vera. I appreciate them being here, I appreciate the opportunity to visit with what their needs are.  We also have several mayors. We have Mayor Suárez from Weslaco, Mayor Darling from McAllen. I’m proud to have with us today many of the state legislative delegation members, including Sens. Hinojosa and Lucio,, and Representatives Lucio, Domínguez, Guerra, Longoria, Muñoz, and Martínez. I appreciate their ongoing leadership, both during the ongoing (COVID-19) pandemic as well as during the response to the hurricane.

One thing that we were able to learn from our meeting were some obvious things. The need for pumps, for example, whether it be in Hidalgo County or elsewhere, and our work to help accelerate the providing of those pumps. In addition to that, obviously, there was a lot of challenges with regard to downed power lines. 

While we were in there (meeting with the area leaders), we issued a new waiver on my part to assist in part of this process. Moments ago I waived certain regulations related to commercial trucking in the State of Texas. These suspensions will allow commercial drivers to more quickly deliver supplies – specifically electric power supplies – to communities in the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend impacted by Hurricane Hanna. 

The reason for that, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley that I heard from all of the county judges, was the fact that there are ongoing power outages. We were in communication with the power companies about what their needs were to accelerate getting the power back on. By making this waiver of this regulation, it will provide those power companies another tool they need to accelerate that process of getting that power back on. 

We talked about people who were sheltered, whether they be in Hidalgo or other counties, in making sure that those who are sheltered will have their needs met. Obviously, we talked about what is clearly observed to be catastrophic agricultural damages, and the need to take action to help address the agriculture losses and the agriculture damages. 

We talked in Starr County with the county judge there about roof damages as well as houses that are flooded. There (Starr County) are more than 2,000 homes that are without power. 

We also had the ability to visit with the county judge in Cameron County about individuals there who are in need of shelter, and the (Texas) State Guard who are working to help provide that shelter, as well as the need for mosquito control.

Also, we addressed challenges that they are facing with regarding COVID. You have to hand it to the local leaders. It’s an enormous challenge for any local leader to step up and be able to address the challenges that come along with a hurricane. It’s even more challenging when you couple that with a pandemic.

Our biggest concern with the hurricane was the challenge it posed because of the pandemic, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. 

There’s one thing that I want to emphasize to everyone in the Rio Grande Valley is this: this hurricane has not eliminated COVID-19. COVID-19 still exists in the Rio Grande Valley. It can still be easily transmitted in the Rio Grande Valley. 

Any type of gathering of just a few people provides an opportunity for COVID to spread from one person to another. It is essential that everybody understand the necessity, now more than ever, to take every precaution that you can to make sure that you do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That means avoiding those gatherings. It means avoid going to bars and settings that put you in proximity to others. It means staying at home, if at all possible.

However, we know is that part of the challenge that you deal in the Rio Grande Valley is the challenge with health care. So I am making several announcements today (Tuesday, July 28, 2020) to help the Rio Grande Valley to better deal with the health care challenges that are posed by COVID.

We are announcing – first I want to express my appreciation to Mayor Darling of McAllen – because we are announcing that we are opening up the McAllen Convention Center that will be converted into a health care facility. The maximum number of patients that it could be able to handle will be 250 (two hundred) patients. That maximum number will be determined by the level of acuity (the severity of a hospitalized person’s illness) of particular patients, so it could change. 

It is intended to be able to address the local needs that exist in the current hospitals. It will be opened later this week. It comes with hospital beds, medical equipment, and medical staff, in addition to just the location. It is going to be a single location that a large number of patients will be able to go to. In addition, there are multiple locations that are either open already, or they will be open this week, that will provide additional locations for COVID patients to go to, especially those who are in the recovery mode.

They are called “Step-Down Sites”.  One is in Laredo that will provide capacity for more than 100 (one hundred) patients. Another is in Pharr that will provide capacity for 20 (twenty) people to start, up to a total of 40 (forty). Another which will be coming here in the coming days is in Harlingen. We are still working on a site to be determined for a facility like this in Starr County.

We are also announcing today (Tuesday, July 28, 2020) additional medical staff coming to this region. The Department of Defense has deployed additional task forces to communities in the Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley to help COVID-19. These are 85-person teams that consist of medical and support professionals who help meet medical needs in hospitals and in the communities of Corpus Christi, Victoria, Harlingen and Edinburg.

Today (Tuesday, July 28, 2020), an additional U.S. Army Reserve unit has arrived in Harlingen to support two hospitals. One is Valley Baptist Medical Center and Harlingen Medical Center. Tomorrow (Wednesday, July 29, 2020), there will be an additional U.S. Army Reserve Unit that will arrive in the Rio Grande Valley to begin assisting hospital personnel at DHR Health in Edinburg. This is on top of the more than 2,000 medical personnel that we’ve already allocated to this region to assist in the health care needs of this region.

Bottom line is this: the State of Texas will work with both our federal and local partners, as well as private entities, to ensure that every health care need of every person in the Rio Grande Valley is going to be met in response to either COVID-19, Hurricane Hanna, or any other crisis situation they are dealing with. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with these leaders here, and I am also proud that we are being led in our response effort by the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management Nim Kidd.

HISTORY OF HURRICANE HANNA 2020 PROVIDED BY WIKIPEDIA

Wikipedia is an online free-content encyclopedia project that aims to help create a world in which everyone can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. It is supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content. The name “Wikipedia” is a blending of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) and encyclopedia. Wikipedia’s articles provide links designed to guide the user to related pages with additional information.

As of Thursday, July 30, 2020, Wikipedia) had posted the following history of Hurricane Hanna:

Hurricane Hanna was the first Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in Texas in the month of July since Dolly in 2008. 

The eighth named storm and first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Hanna developed from a vigorous tropical wave originating near Hispaniola. This disturbance dropped heavy rain over parts of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Florida. The wave gradually became more organized and developed into a tropical depression in the central portion of the Gulf of Mexico

The depression strengthened into a tropical storm on Friday, July 24, 2020, setting a new record for earliest eighth-named storm in the basin, getting its name 10 calendar days before the previous record holder, Tropical Storm Harvey of 2005

Hanna steadily intensified as it drifted toward Southern Texas, becoming the season’s first hurricane early on Saturday, July 25, 2020, before quickly strengthening and making landfall later in the day. Hanna made landfall at 22:00 UTC later that day as a high-end Category 1 hurricane, with a peak intensity of 90 miles per hour (145 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 973 mbar.

Hanna was the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas since Hurricane Harvey in 2017. 

In Florida, Hanna killed one person due to rip currents. Hanna’s outer bands also caused rounds of thunderstorms across parts of the Northern Gulf Coast even threatening street flooding in New Orleans

In Texas, where the storm made landfall, extensive property damage was reported in the Rio Grande Valley especially in Port Mansfield. The brunt of the wind damage was located south of the city of Corpus Christi due to the eye taking a more southward path than originally forecasted. Corpus Christi experienced storm surge flooding and tropical storm-force winds, while areas to the south of the city experienced hurricane-force sustained winds. In Mexico, severe flooding caused by Hanna killed three people.

Meteorological history

During Sunday, July 19, 2020, the National Hurricane Center marked a tropical wave, located between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for gradual development over the coming week.

The wave drifted generally west-northwest for next few days while producing a large region of disorganized showers and thunderstorms. After entering the Gulf of Mexico, the wave started to gradually organize and become better defined, with an area of low pressure forming on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

During the morning hours of Thursday, July 23, 2020, hurricane reconnaissance aircraft flew into the system, and was able to find that a closed circulation had developed, leading to the classification of the system as Tropical Depression Eight.

At 03:00 UTC the next day, banding features became evident within the newly-formed system and hurricane reconnaissance aircraft data indicated tropical storm-force winds inside the nascent storm, leading to the upgrade of the storm to a tropical storm, being named Hanna

(UTC stands for Universal Time Code. To convert 18 UTC into your local time, subtract 6 hours, to get 12 CST. During daylight saving (summer) time, you would only subtract 5 hours, so 18 UTC would convert to 13 CDT.)

Upon the naming of Hanna, the storm became the earliest eighth-named storm on record, surpassing Tropical Storm Harvey of 2005 by well over a week.

Hanna continued to steadily intensify as it approached Texas, forming a mid-level eye during the afternoon hours of Friday, July 24, 2020.Hanna continued to steadily strengthen as it moved west towards the southern coast of Texas and at 6:00 UTC on Saturday, July 25, 2020, Hanna became a hurricane after winds of 75 mph (120 km/h) were found within the storm. 

Hanna strengthened further despite its close proximity to land, developing an eye of 30–35 nmi on radar and satellite imagery. Reaching a peak intensity of 90 mph (150 km/h) and a pressure of 973 mbar, the storm made landfall at Padre Island, Texas, at 22:00 UTC. 

Hanna made a second landfall in Kenedy County, Texas, 15 miles (25 km) north of Port Mansfield, Texas, at 23:15 UTC. Once inland, Hanna gradually weakened becoming a tropical storm by 6:00 UTC on Sunday, July 26, 2020. 

Around 12:00 UTC that same day, Hanna continued to weaken as it moved into Northeastern Mexico.Hanna weakened further to tropical depression status while located far into Mexico, and responsibility of advisories was passed to the Weather Prediction Center on Monday, July 27, 2020 . The last advisory by the WPC was later issued that day.

Preparations

Immediately after the disturbance’s upgrade to a tropical depression, tropical storm watches were issued for much of the Texas shoreline. Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, announced that various severe weather resources were placed on standby due to the strengthening storm, including search-and-rescue teams from Texas A&M Task Force 1 and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Department of Public Safety also provided aircraft, mainly helicopters, for similar purposes. The state also deployed boat teams from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

In Corpus Christi, sandbags were given away as local officials closed beaches due to the threat of rip currents and rough surf. In Kleberg County and San Patricio County, voluntary evacuations were ordered. Kleberg County also issued an emergency disaster declaration for the county ahead of the storm. A FEMA Dome was opened as a shelter in Kingsville at H.M. King High School.In Guadalupe, Nuevo León, a Mexican league soccer match was postponed as a precautionary measure.

Impact

In Texas, where the storm made landfall, around 194,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley and surrounding areas lost power due to Hanna. Rain totals of 6-12 inches in the area – with up to 16 inches in some locations – would “produce life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams and isolated minor river flooding in South Texas,” the National Weather Service predicted 

Hanna also also caused downed trees and ripped roofs from homes. 

Wind gusts reached up to 110 mph (175 km/h) and storm surge reached as high as 7 ft (2 m) at landfall.

Strong winds damaged entire homes in Port Mansfield as Hanna made landfall nearby.The Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi was extensively damaged and eventually collapsed partially due to high winds and storm surge. 

Art Museum of South Texas’ first floor and outdoor exhibits at the Texas State Aquarium were inundated by storm surge from Corpus Christi Bay.Areas effected by Hanna were already struggling due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the region, and thus supplies remained limited. Several marinas and boats on the coastline were severely damaged. 

Three individuals had to be rescued from a sinking sailboat on a marina off the coast.Many streets and highways later became inaccessible for much of Friday, July 25 and Saturday, July 26, 2020.

As Hanna moved further inland and weakened on Saturday, July 26, 2020, the storm unleashed copious amounts of rainfall in South Texas, with rainfall totals reaching up to 16 in (280 mm). Additionally, Hanna’s outer bands caused widespread tornado warnings across South Texas. 

An EF0 tornado briefly touched down and damaged two homes and a hangar in Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport. A tornado watch was then issued later in the day. The cities of Mission and McAllen were also placed under flash flood emergencies due to Hanna’s rain bands.

Even a day following landfall much of the areas near the coast in Corpus Christi remained submerged from storm surge and flash flooding.After sheltering for the season Tormenta, thousands of AEP crews worked for days to restore power, but were delayed to some areas due to high water, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. Shortly after Hanna, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales surveyed damage along Padre Island.

Due to the extensive damage to property in the southern part of the state, Governor Greg Abbott, issued a declaration of disaster for 32 counties affected by the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and President Donald Trump granted a Federal Emergency Declaration request for Public Assistance. This allows the Federal government to provide emergency protective measures, such as Federal assistance and reimbursement for mass care including evacuation and shelter support at 75 percent federal funding.

Mexico

On Saturday, July 26, 2020, streets in Monterrey, Nuevo León, were flooded by Hanna after it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Other parts of the states of Nuevo LeónCoahuila, and Tamaulipas were similarly affected. Electrical power was cut in large sections of Monterrey and neighboring areas, while the road linking Monterrey to ReynosaTamaulipas, was closed due to flooding.

In the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, heavy rain and winds damaged tents in a refugee camp housing an estimated 1,300 asylum seekers.

Reynosa, Tamaulipas, was one of the most affected cities in Mexico, where 45 neighborhoods were damaged, two people were killed, and 200 people were displaced due to Hanna’s impact.One of the deaths was caused by drowning in Hanna’s floodwaters after the victim suffered a seizure.

A maternity hospital was flooded on Saturday, July 26, 2020. In the same city, one woman reportedly died after suffering a seizure and drowning in the floodwater left by Hanna.

An 11-year-old child who fell into an overflowing stream in Monterrey was reported missing,where extensive flooding and fallen trees were reported.A video showing the collapse of part of the Mexican-United States border wall was widely shared on social media, with the cause attributed to Hanna’s high winds; the United States Army Corps of Engineers later clarified that the collapse had occurred over a month earlier, in the state of New Mexico, and was completely unrelated to Hanna.A 35-year-old woman and her daughter were killed in Ramos ArizpeCoahuila.

Elsewhere

The precursor disturbance to Hanna dropped heavy rain to parts of Hispaniola, the Florida Keys and Cuba. In Pensacola, Florida, a 33 year old police deputy was drowned by rip currents while trying to save his teenage son in Sandestin Beach. In portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, the outer bands of Hanna brought heavy rainfall even threatening street flooding in New Orleans.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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