Hurricane Laura strengthens in Gulf, officials issue dire warnings to those who remain

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Hurricane Laura is expected to quickly transform into an even stronger than expected ‘catastrophic’ Category 4 hurricane as it heads into Texas and Louisiana, swirling wind and water over much of the Gulf from Mexico.Satellite images show Laura has become “a formidable hurricane” in recent hours, threatening to destroy homes and sink entire communities. It has undergone remarkable intensification and a storm surge of up to 6.10 meters could occur in some coastal areas, the National Weather Service said.

“Conditions will rapidly deteriorate along the coast in a few hours,” the agency said in a bulletin. “The preparations to protect life and property must be completed. ”

High winds of 233 kilometers per hour are now forecast ahead of landfall, pushing water over 724 kilometers of coast from Texas to Mississippi.

In the largest US evacuation of the pandemic, more than half a million people were ordered Tuesday to flee an area of ​​the Gulf Coast along the Texas-Louisiana state border .

“Consider the advice of your local authorities,” said Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator at the National Weather Service. “If they tell you to go, go!” Your life depends on it today. It’s a serious day and you have to listen to them. ”

LOOK l Laura’s view from above:

NASA is releasing video of Hurricane Laura captured by astronauts on the International Space Station. 0:56

Laura increased her power by almost 70% from the day before, crossing the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

At 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, Laura was located 365 to 375 kilometers from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas, respectively. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 205 km / h and was moving northwest at 26 km / h.

The hurricane is expected to make landfall in the United States in late Wednesday or early Thursday.

“In some areas, when they wake up Thursday morning, they won’t believe what happened,” said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

A Category 4 hurricane can cause damage so catastrophic that power outages can last for months in some places, and large areas could be uninhabitable for weeks or months, posing a new disaster relief challenge for a government already striving to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, with some 180,000 killed in the United States

“We need to be concerned about the federal ability to respond to a major hurricane, especially in light of the failures that are all too obvious in public health,” said Kathleen Tierney, former director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado. “I’m really worried: who’s running the store? ”

President Donald Trump used Twitter Tuesday afternoon to urge coastal residents to heed local officials, warning that Laura “is a very dangerous and rapidly escalating hurricane.”

The Federal Emergency Management Administration in Washington has also released preparations and warnings online.

Hundreds of thousands of people said to go

More than 385,000 residents have been asked to evacuate the Texas towns of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur.

Another 200,000 have been ordered to leave the lower parishes of Calcasieu and Cameron in southwest Louisiana, where forecasters have said up to four meters of wave-topped storm surge could overwhelm communities whole.

In Galveston and Port Arthur, many people boarded buses for Austin and other inland towns. “If you decide to stay, you are left alone,” said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie.

Evacuees prepare to board a bus Tuesday in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Hurricane Laura is expected to hit somewhere along the Gulf Coast on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Laura is also expected to release massive rainfall over a short period of time as she moves inland, causing widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast.

Flash flood clocks have been issued for much of Arkansas, and forecasters have said heavy rain could move through parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky on Friday and Saturday.

Urging residents of southwest Louisiana to evacuate before it is too late, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said they must reach where they intended to get out of storm by noon on Wednesday, when the state begins to feel the effects of the storm.

Shelters follow coronavirus protocols

Officials have urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. The buses were full of protective gear and disinfectants, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people separate, Texas officials said.

Shelters have opened with camp beds further out to fight coronavirus infections. Evacuees were asked to bring a mask and one bag of personal belongings each.

“Hopefully it’s not that threatening to people, to life, because people are reluctant to go anywhere because of COVID,” Robert Duffy said as he placed sandbags around his house in Morgan City, Louisiana. “No one wants to sleep on a gym floor with 200 other people. It’s a little hard to social distancing. ”

The hurricane threatens a center of the American energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and about 61% of natural gas production had been halted. Almost 300 platforms were evacuated.

While oil prices often rise before a major storm as production slows, consumers are unlikely to see big price changes as the pandemic has decimated demand for fuel.

Laura killed nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where she cut the power and caused intense flooding.

It is targeting the U.S. coast just days before the Aug. 29 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which swept through New Orleans dikes, leveled much of the Mississippi coast and killed up to 1,800 people. in 2005.

Galveston, Houston and other parts of Texas, meanwhile, were destroyed three years ago by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, with an estimated economic toll of US $ 125 billion that would not have been rivaled. that by Katrina.



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