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Aug. 27, 2020, 1:50 a.m. EDT

Laura grows to catastrophic Category 4 hurricane; warnings of ‘unsurvivable’ storm surge

Meteorologist warns Laura could grow to Category 5; coastal residents of Texas, Louisiana urged to evacuate

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By Associated Press


NOAA via AP
This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Wednesday shows Hurricane Laura over the Gulf of Mexico.

DELCAMBRE, La. (AP) — Laura roared ashore over southwestern Louisiana near the Texas border as a ferocious Category 4 hurricane late Wednesday, swamping a low-lying coast with ocean water that forecasters said could be 20 feet deep and unsurvivable.

Winds gusted above hurricane force to 110 mph (177 kph) while Laura’s northern eyewall moved onshore over Cameron Parish, the National Hurricane Center said, and forecasters said even stronger winds were possible that could rip apart buildings, level trees and toss vehicles like toys.

Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate, but not everyone did before howling winds began buffeting trees back and forth in an area that was devastated by Rita in 2005.

The storm grew nearly 87% in power in just 24 hours to a size the National Hurricane Center called “extremely dangerous.” Drawing energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico, the system arrived early Thursday during high tide as the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

“It looks like it’s in full beast mode, which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said.

Hurricane-force winds extending 60 miles from the storm’s center neared the coast, forecasters said, and bands of heavy rain fell 30 miles from the beach in Lake Charles.

Late Wednesday, Laura was churning about 75 miles south of Lake Charles and moving north-northwest at 15 mph.

Maximum sustained winds increased to 150 mph before nightfall, and forecasters said up to 15 inches of rain could fall. Forecasters issued a string of tornado warnings as the storm pushed on to land, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

One major Louisiana highway already had standing water as Laura’s outer bands moved ashore with tropical storm-force winds. Thousands of sandbags lined roadways in tiny Lafitte, and winds picked up as shoppers earlier Wednesday rushed into a grocery store in low-lying Delcambre.

Trent Savoie, 31, said he was staying put. “With four kids and 100 farm animals, it’s just hard to move out,” he said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards fretted that the dire predictions were not resonating despite authorities putting more than 500,000 coastal residents under mandatory evacuation orders.

Officials said at least 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles in coastal Cameron Parish, which could be completely covered by ocean water.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”

Edwards activated the state’s entire National Guard. In Lake Charles, Guard members drove school buses around neighborhoods, offering to pick up families. Across the state line in Port Arthur, Texas, few stragglers boarded evacuation buses, and city officials announced that two C-130 transport planes offered the last chance to leave.

Abbott warned that people who fail to get out of harm’s way could be cut off from help long after the storm hit.

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