Packing wind speeds of 150 mph and bringing a life-threatening storm surge, Laura on Thursday became one of the strongest hurricanes in U.S. history to make landfall as it struck Louisiana near the Texas border.
The “extremely dangerous” storm came ashore near Cameron in southwestern Louisiana about 1 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).
The storm’s maximum sustained winds have since fallen to 100 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. That would make it a Category 2 hurricane, according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Laura “is now tied for the most intense hurricane landfall on record in the state of Louisiana, and ranks as one of the most powerful hurricane landfalls in U.S. history,” said Bill Karins, an NBC meteorologist.
The National Hurricane Center warned in an earlier message that Laura’s storm surge could be “unsurvivable” for those who remained in its path along the Gulf of Mexico.
Laura was weakening rapidly and expected to become a tropical storm later Thursday, according to the hurricane center.
However, tornadoes are possible over parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, and western Mississippi, the center said.
The hurricane had already knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of users in Louisiana and Texas by early Thursday.
The eye of the storm initially took aim at the Texas-Louisiana border, and the coast from High Island, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River was under a storm surge warning, according to the hurricane center.
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This means there is extreme danger from flooding from rising water moving inland from the coastline, the center said.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the center said. “Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions.”
“Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials,” it added.
The storm surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm, the center said.
There could be an inland rush of seawater up to 20 feet, the center said in an earlier message.
As Laura pushes northward the storm brings with it damaging winds, flooding and rainfall spreading inland over western and central Louisiana, the center said.
“Take cover now!” the center said in an earlier post. “Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to the safe room in your shelter.”
There is a tropical storm warning in place from High Island, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Hurricane-force winds and damaging wind gusts are also expected to spread well inland into portions of eastern Texas and western Louisiana on Thursday morning, the center said.
Across portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and across Arkansas, the storm is expected to produce 6 to 12 inches of rainfall with isolated totals of 18 inches through Friday. This rainfall will cause widespread flash and urban flooding, with small streams and creeks to overflow their banks, and minor to moderate freshwater river flooding, the center said.
Meanwhile, swells produced by Laura are affecting the U.S. Gulf Coast from the west coast of Florida to Texas and northeastern Mexico, the center said. That is likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip-current conditions, it added.
Laura is moving north and is forecast to move northward across western and northern Louisiana through Thursday afternoon. Laura’s center is then forecast to move over Arkansas Thursday night, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
MaryJane Mudd, of the American Red Cross, told MSNBC more than 600 volunteers had been deployed up and down the coast to help support the shelters and that there were more on standby.
However, the coronavirus had meant that in handling the situation there was “double the concern,” she said.
It’s “hard enough to get people to evacuate when you don’t have fear of COVID,” she said.
On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office of Vermilion Parish, just east of where Laura came ashore, warned residents who wouldn’t or couldn’t evacuate to keep identification on them.
“Please evacuate and if you choose to stay and we can’t get to you, write your name, address, Social Security number and next of kin and put it [in] a ziplock bag in your pocket,” the office said in a statement.
The National Weather Service earlier said that devastation could spread far inland in eastern Texas and western Louisiana.
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Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Late Wednesday U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared public health emergencies in Texas and Louisiana as a result of Laura.
Phil Klotzback, atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, said on Twitter the landfall marked the third hurricane to strike the continental United States in 2020. Only two other Atlantic hurricane seasons, 1886 and 1916 have had three or more continental landfalls by this date, he said.