hurricane laura

Louisiana Governor Closes Part of Interstate 10 as Category 4 Hurricane Laura Takes Aim

Officials urged evacuees to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19

Update: Hurricane Laura made landfall Thursday morning in southwest Louisiana as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm with winds reaching 150 mph. Click here for the latest information.

Hurricane Laura rapidly gained strength Wednesday to become a catastrophic Category 4 storm with an "unsurvivable” 20-foot storm surge that could sink entire communities in Texas and Louisiana. Authorities implored coastal residents to flee before it's too late.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is closing Interstate 10 from around the Atchafalaya Bridge outside of Lafayette all the way into part of Texas, because several stretches within that area are expected to flood.

In a radio interview Wednesday night, Edwards talked of the "apocalyptic" language that meteorologists have used for the storm. "The language I've heard from the National Weather Service I've never heard before … They're sending the strongest possible message about how serious this storm is," he said.

NBC 5’s Vince Sims was in Galveston Wednesday night as Hurricane Laura was approaching the Texas coast. Most of the city was quiet as there is a night-time curfew in place.

He talked specifically about concerns in Cameron Parish, which could receive wind gusts up to 180 mph (290 kph) and storm surge up to 20 feet (6 meters.)

"When people built back after Rita, they routinely built back to 15 feet," Edwards said. He noted those structures would be overwhelmed.

NBC 5’s Scott Gordon spent the day in Beaumont before moving west to Baytown Wednesday night. People in Beaumont spent the day getting out of town before Laura comes ashore.
Large-scale evacuations are underway in Southeast Texas as Beaumont and Port Arthur are expected to take a direct hit. NBC 5’s Scott Gordon reports from Beaumont as Hurricane Laura is hours away from making landfall.

Edwards said search and rescue efforts will begin Thursday as soon as it's safe enough for officials to go out into floodwaters.

Satellite images show Laura’s remarkable intensification into “a formidable hurricane” that can smash homes and sink entire communities, “and there are no signs it will stop soon,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Laura grew to reach Category 4 status, and it showed no sign of weakening before making landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday. The system was on track to arrive as the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

The National Hurricane Center kept raising its estimate of Laura's storm surge, from 10 feet just a couple of days ago to twice that size.

“Some areas, when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,” said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist.

“We could see storm surge heights more than 15 feet in some areas,” Stewart said. “What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.”

Texas Braces for Hurricane Laura

On Wednesday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph). It was about 225 miles (365 kilometers) out from Lake Charles, Louisiana, moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph). Those winds are expected to increase to 145 mph (233 kmh) before landfall, pushing water onto more than 450 miles (724 kilometers) of coast from Texas to Mississippi.

Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and reached inland for 200 miles (322 kilometers). Storm surge warnings were in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

“Heed the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today,” said Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator at the National Weather Service. “It’s a serious day and you need to listen to them.”

Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months

National Weather Service

A Category 4 hurricane can cause damage so catastrophic that power outages may last for months in places, and wide areas could be uninhabitable for weeks or months, posing a new disaster relief challenge for a government already straining to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

In the largest U.S. evacuation of the pandemic, more than half a million people were ordered Tuesday to flee from an area of the Gulf Coast along the Texas-Louisiana state line.

More than 385,000 residents were told to evacuate the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur. Another 200,000 were ordered to leave the low-lying Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in southwestern Louisiana, where forecasters said as much as 13 feet of storm surge topped by waves could submerge whole communities.

“Cameron Parish is going to be part of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days, based on this forecast track,” said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is near the bullseye.

In Galveston and Port Arthur, Texas, many people boarded buses to Austin and other inland cities. “If you decide to stay, you’re staying on your own,” Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said.

Laura also is expected to dump massive rainfall over a short period of time as it moves inland, causing widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. Flash flood watches were issued for much of Arkansas, and forecasters said heavy rainfall could move to parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky late Friday and Saturday.

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Urging people in southwest Louisiana to evacuate before it’s too late, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said they need to reach wherever they intend to ride out the storm by noon Wednesday, when the state will start feeling the storm’s effects.

Officials urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Buses were stocked with protective equipment and disinfectant, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people apart, Texas officials said.

Whitney Frazier, 29, of Beaumont spent Tuesday morning trying to get transportation to a high school where she could board a bus to leave the area.

“Especially with everything with COVID going on already on top of a mandatory evacuation, it’s very stressful,” Frazier said.

Shelters opened with cots set farther apart to curb coronavirus infections. Evacuees were told to bring a mask and just one bag of personal belongings each.

“Hopefully it’s not that threatening to people, to lives, because people are hesitant to go anywhere due to COVID,” Robert Duffy said as he placed sandbags around his home in Morgan City, Louisiana. “Nobody wants to sleep on a gym floor with 200 other people. It’s kind of hard to do social distancing.”

The hurricane is threatening a center of the U.S. energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and an estimated 61% of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.

After making landfall and continuing to move inland, Hurricane Laura was downgraded to a tropical depression by the National Weather Service.

While oil prices often spike before a major storm as production slows, consumers are unlikely to see big price changes because the pandemic decimated demand for fuel.

Laura killed nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.

It’s taking aim at the U.S. coast just days before the Aug. 29 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which breached the levees in New Orleans, flattened much of the Mississippi coast and killed as many as 1,800 people in 2005. Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana weeks later as a Category 3 storm.

The situation could be even worse in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, which could soon be under water.

“Cameron Parish is going to part of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days based on this forecast track,” Jones said.

In Galveston and Port Arthur, Texas, mandatory evacuation orders went into effect shortly before daybreak Tuesday. “If you decide to stay, you’re staying on your own,” Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said.

Forecasters expect the storm to increase to 120 mph before landfall and push ocean water onto land along more than 450 miles of coast from Texas to Mississippi. Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and storm surge warnings from the Port Arthur, Texas, flood protection system to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Fearing that people would not evacuate in time, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said those in southwest Louisiana need to reach wherever they intend to ride out the storm by noon Wednesday, when the state will start feeling the storm’s effects.

Officials urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Buses were stocked with protective equipment and disinfectant, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people apart, Texas officials said.

Whitney Frazier, 29, of Beaumont spent Tuesday morning trying to get transportation to a high school where she could board a bus to leave the area.

“Especially with everything with COVID going on already on top of a mandatory evacuation, it’s very stressful,” Frazier said.

With a few more hours left to prepare for Hurricane Laura, now expected to make landfall as a category three hurricane, North Texas first responders are arriving along the coast to assist local emergency crews.

Shelters opened with cots set farther apart to curb coronavirus infections. People planning to enter shelters were told to bring just one bag of personal belongings each, and a mask to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“Hopefully it’s not that threatening to people, to lives, because people are hesitant to go anywhere due to COVID,” Robert Duffy said as he placed sandbags around his home in Morgan City, Louisiana. “Nobody wants to sleep on a gym floor with 200 other people. It’s kind of hard to do social distancing.”

The hurricane is threatening a center of the U.S. energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and an estimated 61% of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.

While oil prices often spike before a major storm as production slows, consumers are unlikely to see big price changes because the pandemic decimated demand for fuel.

Laura passed Cuba after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding. The deaths reportedly included a 10-year-old girl whose home was hit by a tree and a mother and young son crushed by a collapsing wall.

Laura’s arrival comes just days before the Aug. 29 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which breached the levees in New Orleans, flattened much of the Mississippi coast and killed as many as 1,800 people in 2005. Less than a month later, Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana as a Category 3 storm.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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