As Hurricane Laura barreled towards the US Gulf coast, healthcare workers in Texas and south-west Louisiana region braced for the potential effects of a natural disaster during the coronavirus pandemic.
Laura became a hurricane on Tuesday as the weather system entered the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with forecasters projecting it could hit the coast of the US as a category 3 storm with life-threatening winds of up to 115mph.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday or early Thursday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At least nine local jurisdictions have issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, meaning hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced by storm preparation during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated Texas and Louisiana.
Hospitals throughout the region were moving to discharge as many patients as possible who were well enough to return home and urged hurricane preparedness to prevent a potential surge in patients.
In Houston, the biggest city under threat from Laura, doctors at the largest medical system in the region told local news hospitals were ready for a potential influx as the number of Covid-19 patients continued to decline.
“All of our facilities are ready for floods and high winds so I think we’re in as good shape as we can be when these things come close to the coast,” Dr David Callender, Memorial Hermann System president and CEO, told ABC 8 News.
With reference to the pandemic, Callender added: “We’re in much better shape now than we were then, and that gives us a little more freedom and flexibility in terms of how we respond to storms.”
In Harris county, the jurisdiction that incorporates most of Houston, masks, hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes have been added to the list of essential items residents have been urged to procure in order to ride out the storm. In Port Arthur, a small city north of Houston under a mandatory evacuation order, residents are being told they must bring a mask if they evacuate to one of the city’s hurricane shelters.
Harris county remains a Covid-19 hotpot although the county has seen a decline in positive tests in recent weeks it still lists over 25,000 active cases as of Tuesday morning. At least 200 people have died from the virus a day in Texas for the past three weeks, according to the Texas Tribune.
Forecasters say a storm surge of up to 11ft could inundate certain areas of the coast with warnings that such a rise could lead to substantial inland flooding. There were also concerns of up to 15in of rainwater in certain areas of Louisiana, which could lead to flash flooding.
29 August marks the 15th anniversary of the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and other coastal cities in the region. A devastating hurricane that led to an official death toll in Louisiana of 1,833.
Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, said Laura could cause major damage to certain parts of the state.
“Every storm is unique. We’re only going to dodge the bullet so many times,” he told reporters.
The governor said Louisiana would remain in phase two of coronavirus reopening, meaning most businesses will stay at 50% capacity with mandatory mask wearing throughout the state.
On Sunday Louisiana recorded 1,223 new coronavirus cases over a two-day period, with a decline in hospitalizations.
Source: The Guardian