By KARMA ALLEN and MAX GOLEMBO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Laura is expected to intensify to Category 4 hurricane today with 145 mph winds and “unsurvivable storm surge” in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes,” the NWS said in a statement. “This surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline. Only a few hours remain to protect life and property and all actions should be rushed to completion.”
Parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana are forecast to see “catastrophic wind damage,” especially in places where the storm’s eyewall makes landfall, the NWS said. Residents are urged to brace for “widespread damaging wind gusts” that will spread well inland across parts of those areas early Thursday morning.
Laura has kept people along the Gulf Coast guessing for days as the projected track continues to change. The storm matured into a Category 3 hurricane in the Gulf and forecasters say it could strengthen to a Category 4 even before it makes landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Here’s how the news is developing today. All times Eastern:
12:56 p.m.: Louisiana officials expect catastrophic events from storm
OEM officials in Louisiana are putting it bluntly to residents: Leave and leave now.
In their final briefing before Laura makes landfall, officials with Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish say they expect catastrophic events from the storm.
“Short of pulling people out of their homes, we have done everything humanly possible to get people out of Calcasieu Parish,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “As much as it pains me, we are quickly getting to the point where you are going to have to hunker down. Public safety is not going to be able to respond.”
Sheriff Tony Mancuso said that while they could protect property from looters, they can’t protect homes from the wind and the storm surge, both of which are expected to be well above the devastating effect that Hurricane Rita had in 2005.
He, too, begged people to leave and leave now.
“There is nothing at my house that is so important in my house that I would stay there,” he said. “I would love to leave. It is not an option for me. It is an option for you.”
In addition to those leaving in their own vehicles, more than 800 people have been bused out of the area.
12:06 p.m.: Storm strength is at high end of Cat 4
The storm is sustaining winds of about 145 mph, putting it near the higher end of a Category 4 hurricane. Winds above 156 mph designate a Category 5 storm.
In an interview with ABC News, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he woke up Tuesday morning to find Laura’s track had shifted slightly west and closer to Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of about 7 million.
Officials in Houston and Harris County urged residents to stay off the roads so people evacuating have access to the freeways. Local officials urged all residents in the storm’s path to fill up their gas tanks and generators.
The mayor urged people not to panic. City officials said they don’t expect Laura to be another Hurricane Harvey or Tropical Storm Imelda, which both led to catastrophic flooding. They do, however, expect this storm to be a fast-moving wind event, which could bring a storm surge, structural damage and power outages.
Compounding the situation is the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why Turner told residents to stock up on necessary food, supplies and PPE. He said he anticipates that COVID-19 testing will be suspended until after the storm and that the city won’t be opening mass shelters as it has in years past.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.