Hanna’s fury leaves portions of Cameron County in clean-up mode

Cameron County residents, thousands of them in the dark with no power, woke up to a soggy mess Sunday morning left by the well-watered path of Hurricane Hanna.

The center of the Category One storm came ashore around 5 p.m.

Saturday, 15 miles north of Port Mansfield, and then proceeded to twist itself westward and south, its eye careening into the Rio Grande Valley.

On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared all four counties in the Rio Grande Valley as disaster areas due to Hurricane Hanna.

The governor’s declaration for these and 28 other counties also includes a request to President Trump to issue a federal disaster declaration which would give Valley counties and cities access to FEMA funding.

Hanna made landfall with winds of around 90 mph and dropped 14 inches of rain on Port Mansfield.

“All eyes have been on Port Mansfield because it was ground zero, so to speak, for the landfall of Hanna,” Joseph Tomaselli, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said Sunday. “We got a report there were a little over 14 inches of rainfall by our cooperative observer up there in Port Mansfield.”

“Our forecast of 6 to 12 inches of rain fall for the entire event, isolated up to 18 inches of rainfall, seems to be coming to fruition, it seems to be coming true so far, so this was definitely a heavy rain event for the Rio Grande Valley,” he added.

Outside of Port Mansfield, the highest rainfall total was recorded in Harlingen.

“It looks like Harlingen may have been the winner,” Tomaselli said. “Unfortunately, the instrument at Valley International Airport failed as Hanna was making landfall and going across Cameron County, but one of our cooperative observers who lives in central Harlingen reported 10.64 inches of rainfall in her rain gauge.”

Other areas of Cameron County were not spared.

“We’re still looking at some neighborhoods that have high water and that’s going to be in the La Feria, Los Fresnos, Santa Rosa areas,” Tom Hushen, Cameron County emergency management coordinator, said Sunday afternoon. “In one area we’ve got probably 150 houses and another one a little over 100. But water’s in the street and its rising but we have pumps that are operating to try to get that water out as quickly as possible.

“We still have power outages, numerous power outages throughout the region, and some cities still haven’t been turned back on yet,” he added. “We still have some flooding issues on some of the side streets as well.”

Hushen said downtown La Feria also saw some flooding but was thankful the weather forecast Sunday predicted the rain would gradually slow, although it will persist in an on-and-off fashion through Wednesday.

Harlingen city workers wearing yellow rain slickers were up before dawn Sunday morning, clearing away thousands of wind-strewn palm fronds, tree branches and other debris.

Traffic was moving smoothly in the city, although numerous dark traffic lights made travel a stop-and-go affair.

“Actually, we were monitoring the drainage all night,” Harlingen City Manager Dan Serna said Sunday afternoon. “Crews were working really early trying to remove larger tree limbs from major arterials so that traffic can flow once again, especially for emergency vehicles.

“And they continue to do that, continue to drive down  residential and commercial streets removing brush, fallen trees and what have you,” he added.

Serna praised the Harlingen Police Department for its role in documenting numerous downed power lines and the city was thus able to provide a detailed list to AEP Texas work crews of where the problem lines were located.

“They were very appreciative and they jumped on it right away,” Serna said of the utility company’s crews.

Brownsville was largely spared the worst of Hanna’s temper, Tomaselli said.

“It wasn’t too terribly bad,” he said. “Brownsville was far enough away from the center of Hanna that, yes, there was some wind, and there were copious amounts of rainfall, but for me personally, I found many of the streets were not flooded and found it very easy to get to work.”

“Probably the most significant incident that occurred in Brownsville with Hanna was during the overnight hours of Saturday night into Sunday morning, there may have been a weak tornado that touched down over Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport,” Tomaselli said. “In fact, that tornado, that possible tornado, was detected by the radar and was so close to the station that our staff sought shelter in the tornado shelter for a brief time. But the warning was issued and they were safe.”

In Willacy County, Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said the storm dropped trees and power lines but that his city saw little flooding.

“The area between 7th Street and I want to say 11th Street, that is flooded,” Gonzales said Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve received quite a bit of debris and a lot of small buildings down,” he said. “The wind was horrible. It seemed like 100 miles an hour, but the thing is, it lasted a long time, especially on the back end.”

Gonzalez himself didn’t escape property damage, he added.

“I’ve got three trees,” he said. “One of them is leaning  against my neighbor’s fence and I just pulled the one that was leaning against the back part of my house but I still have a big limb sitting on the roof of my back room.”

In west Cameron County, the I-2 frontage roads near La Feria which parallel the interstate were practically impassable Sunday morning, although it didn’t deter motorists from trying. Cars and pickups slowed down, but still pushed up boiling white water as they plowed through to their destinations.

AEP Texas reported 195,000 customers were without power late Sunday morning, and Mercedes-based Magic Valley Electric Cooperative reported more than 12,000 households without power around the same time.

But even as the rain continued hammering down on the soaked Rio Grande Valley, the wind at least relented, and utility crews were making headway against the outages by the afternoon.

“We had 70 mph wind gusts and driven rain throughout the entire city,” Serna said. “I don’t think any area was spared. I think we ended up with the south end of the eye of the storm and were getting quite a bit of the brunt of the storm. Now we’re left with cleanup and that’s what the crews are doing over the next few days.”

“This thing went through all night with heavy wind gusts, heavy rain,” Serna added. “The rain was horizontal for much of the night so that driven rain caused a lot of damage, not just to trees and power lines but also people’s property.  … So I don’t think we got off lucky at all. I think this storm came down on us pretty hard.”