Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast early Thursday morning as an extremely dangerous and catastrophic storm that forecasters expect will trigger an “unsurvivable” storm surge along the region.
As of late Wednesday night, Laura was spotted about 120 kilometers south of Lake Charles, Louisiana carrying maximum sustained winds of 240 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 4 storm on the five-level scale that measures a hurricane’s potential destructiveness.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm is rapidly closing in on Lake Charles and the neighboring city of Port Arthur, Texas at a speed of 24 kilometers an hour.
Hurricane warnings are out along a 446-kilometer stretch between San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.
Officials say heavy rain and fierce winds are expected, but the biggest danger is from the expected 7-meter-high storm surge, which could leave entire towns underwater and bring floods and power outages farther inland, and conditions could last for days.
More than 500,000 coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana have been ordered to evacuate. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has deployed the National Guard to pick up families who are unable to leave on their own.
“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.”
President Donald Trump is also urging people to evacuate and says federal help is standing by.
“Hurricane Laura is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane. My Administration remains fully engaged with state & local emergency managers to continue preparing and assisting the great people of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Listen to local officials. We are with you,” he tweeted Wednesday.
Laura is predicted to soak parts of the South with massive rainfall as it moves inland and weakens.
But forecasters say it could strengthen back to a tropical storm as it moves into the warm Atlantic by early next week and threaten the northeast.
Laura killed 24 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti when it struck there as a tropical storm earlier this week.