Hurricane Laura is swirling in the Gulf of Mexico and is projected to hit the Texas and Louisiana coasts Wednesday night as a major hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters project that some coastal areas near the Texas-Louisiana border could see “unsurvivable” storm surge, which could impact areas up to 30 miles inland.
Laura is currently a Category 3 hurricane that is forecast to grow into a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday afternoon. The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds have increased to near 125 mph, with stronger gusts.
In a video update posted on Facebook Wednesday morning, NHC Director Ken Graham said things are “changing rapidly here, but what’s not changing is the fact that this is going to be a catastrophic life-threatening event.”
Laura is expected to rapidly weaken after it makes landfall Wednesday night into Thursday morning, but the projected storm surge could still cause the most life-threatening damage, the hurricane center said.
If peak surge occurs during high tide, the water along Johnson Bayou to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge on the Louisiana coast could rise between 15 and 20 feet. Along Sea Rim State Park, Texas to Intracoastal City, La., water levels could rise between 10 to 15 feet.
“Surge-related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances,” the NHC said.
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. This surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline. #Laura pic.twitter.com/bV4jzT3Chd
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 26, 2020
Earlier this week, some residents in Laura’s path already faced Tropical Storm Marco, which dumped a lot of rain but weakened considerably as it approached the coast. Laura is expected to be much more powerful than that storm. Warm waters in the Gulf are aiding Laura’s rapid growth.
Storm surge and tropical storm force winds will arrive ahead of Laura’s center later tonight, the NHC said. That means that if people delay evacuating, the roads could already be flooded.
“Clock is ticking,” Graham said. “If you’re told to leave, it’s time now to evacuate these areas.”
In Texas, around 400,000 people in Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders.
Despite these warnings, some residents said they are going to stay behind, Florian Martin of Houston Public Media reported. Others said they are taking measures to prepare their homes using storm shutters and generators.
Walter Rowe of Galveston said he’s lived in the area his entire life, and he only evacuated for Hurricane Ike in 2008. He told Martin he wasn’t sure if he would leave this time.
“I’m not worried, that’s kind of what happens down here,” he said.
In Lake Charles, La., which is also under a mandatory evacuation order, Mayor Nic Hunter urged residents to leave their homes in an interview with member station WWNO.
“I will be brutally honest,” he said, “we are very concerned that not enough people are evacuating.”
Hunter said he suspects the coronavirus pandemic and economic hardship are leading many people to take pause. He said people who are staying behind will likely have to wait hours for first responders to reach them.
“As soon as winds get above 40 mph it is just absolutely unsafe to have vehicles out on the road,” Hunter said. “So if people are staying, there is going to be an extended period of time, at least four to six hours, where public safety, law enforcement will not be able to respond to you.”