As cleanup gets underway, South Texas weighs Hurricane Hanna’s impact on COVID-19 crisis

Border Report

Gov. Greg Abbott to visit Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Residents in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas on Monday were cleaning up and digging out after Hurricane Hanna slogged through the region during the weekend, dumping inches of rain and debris and disrupting much-needed coronavirus testing services.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would tour South Texas on Tuesday, making stops in Corpus Christi and then Weslaco, Texas, and meeting with local leaders. Both areas were substantially affected when the Category 1 hurricane made landfall Saturday night near Padre Island.

No lives were lost from the storm, which communities frantically prepared for by giving out free sandbags and encouraging residents to fortify homes against 90 mph hurricane-force winds.

The winds struck McAllen with a vengeance shortly after midnight Sunday morning, howling for hours, sheering limbs off trees, taking down street signs, damaging garage doors, and leaving thousands without power and Internet service.

On Monday afternoon, at least 24,000 customers still were without electricity as temperatures hovered in the high 80s and low 90s. Many customers reported damaged air conditioning units, overflowing pools, and mud left on roads that had been submerged in several inches — and sometimes feet — of water a day before.

Tree limbs were split, lamp posts tilting, street signs down, fences busted, garage doors off hinges and debris and downed porta potties littered streets in McAllen and Edinburg, Texas, on Monday, July 27, 2020, after Hurricane Hanna struck the region overnight on July 26, 2020. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)

The Sharyland Water Corp., in Hidalgo County, reported it had lost power to all of its operations and urged its residents to use water sparingly.

Hidalgo County received 8 to 10 inches of rain in a short period of time. “Many of our citizens live in areas where it is flooding. Many vehicles are stranded, power lines and transformers are down and we are evacuating people,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said Sunday. Several shelters were opened, but one in Weslaco had to be moved after the electricity went out at the facility overnight Saturday.

McAllen city commissioners held an emergency meeting on Monday night to discuss storm damage. Many restaurants and businesses were closed on Monday as workers had trouble getting to job sites, and businesses needed a thorough cleaning after the mess left by Hurricane Hanna.

On Monday, the tropical storm was stalled over the mountains of northern Mexico and up to two more inches of rain was expected in the Rio Grande Valley as bands from the storm continued to reach South Texas, CBS4 meteorologists reported on ValleyCentral.com. A flash flood watch remained in effect until 10 p.m. CST Monday for most of South Texas.

The storm couldn’t have come at a worse time as the South Texas region is reeling from spiking COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vazquez told Border Report on Monday that because of the storm and the preparations late last week for it, no public coronavirus testing had been done for five days. And he worried that when testing resumed today in the town of Roma, that results in the next few days will be very high.

Virtually all of the beds in the county’s 45-bed hospital are filled with COVID-19 patients, Vazquez said. Over the past three weeks, many coronavirus patients have been airlifted to other cities like San Antonio, Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas and one to Oklahoma City due to a lack of space or healthcare staff, he said.

“Basically, all our medical beds are COVID unit beds,” said Vazquez, who is also chairman of the board at Starr County Memorial Hospital. “At this point, there are two beds non-COVID-related in the hospital. Other than that, everything is COVID.”

Fortunately, Hurricane Hanna did not cause the power to go out at the hospital, Vazquez said, but it did prevent some healthcare workers from getting to the hospital and forced others to spend the night there to take on extra shifts to help COVID-19 patients.

Last week, Vazquez had announced that an ethics panel would screen all new patient arrivals to determine their probability for survival before treating them due to a lack of space at the small hospital in rural Starr County.

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