Laura is gaining strength and could cause an “insurvable” storm surge

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DELCAMBRE, LA. – Laura strengthened in a threatening Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, raising fears of a 20-foot storm surge that forecasters said would be “insurvable” and capable of sinking entire communities. Authorities pleaded with coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate and feared too few had fled. The storm surged nearly 87% in power in just 24 hours to a size the National Hurricane Center called “extremely dangerous.” Drawing its power from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the system was on track to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States so far this year.

“Looks like he’s in beast mode, which isn’t what you want to see if you’re in his way,” said Brian McNoldy, hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

Winds were expected to reach 150 mph (241 km / h) before landing, and forecasters said up to 15 inches of rain could fall in some spots.

A major highway in Louisiana already had standing water as Laura’s outer bands moved ashore with high tropical storm winds. Thousands of sandbags lined the roads in tiny Lafitte, and the winds picked up as shoppers rushed into a Delcambre grocery store. Trent Savoie, 31, said he was staying on site.

“With four children and 100 farm animals, it’s difficult to move,” he said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards are worried that the dire predictions do not resonate despite authorities putting more than 500,000 coastal residents on mandatory evacuation orders.

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, members of the National Guard drove school buses through neighborhoods, offering to pick up families. Across the state line in Port Arthur, Texas, few latecomers boarded evacuation buses and city officials announced two C-130 transport planes offered the last chance to leave.

Abbott warned that those who fail to get themselves out of harm’s way could be denied help long after the storm.

A Category 4 hurricane can cause damage so catastrophic that power outages can last for months in places, and large areas could be uninhabitable for weeks or months. The threat of such devastation has posed a new disaster relief challenge for a government already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Among the parts of Louisiana that were under evacuation orders, there were areas with high rates of positive COVID-19 tests.

The National Hurricane Center has continued to raise its estimate of Laura’s storm surge from 10 feet just a few days ago to twice that size – a height that forecasters say would be particularly deadly.

As of Wednesday afternoon Laura had maximum sustained winds of 233 km / h (145 mph) as she blew about 250 km south of Lake Charles.

“Take heed of the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today, ”said Joel Cline, Tropical Program Coordinator at the National Meteorological Service. “It’s a serious day and you have to listen to them. ”

On Twitter, President Donald Trump also urged coastal residents to heed local officials. Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and reached inland for 200 miles. Storm surge warnings were in effect from Freeport, Texas at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

For some, the decision to leave home has left them homeless. Wary of opening mass shelters during a pandemic, Texas officials instead placed evacuees in hotels, but Austin stopped taking pre-dawn arrivals because officials said they no longer had rooms. Other evacuees called the State 211 information line and were directed to Ennis, outside Dallas, only to be told after traveling hundreds of miles that there was no ‘available hotels or vouchers.

Taniquia Ned and her sisters showed up with no money to rent a room, claiming the family burned their savings after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus. “COVID-19 is just killing us,” said Shalonda Joseph, 43, a teacher at Port Arthur.

Edwards lamented that the impending storm meant the suspension of community testing for COVID-19 at a crucial time – as elementary and high schools in Louisiana open and students return to college campuses. “We’re basically going to be blind for this week,” Edwards said, referring to the lack of testing.

Forecasters said a wave-topped storm surge could overwhelm entire cities. Water was already rising in the small Louisiana community of Holly Beach in the endangered parish of Cameron, which forecasters said could be part of the Gulf of Mexico after the storm.

Laura is expected to cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. Flood watches have been issued for much of Arkansas, and forecasters have said heavy rain could arrive by Friday in parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Laura is so powerful that she is expected to revert to a tropical storm once it hits the Atlantic Ocean, potentially threatening the northeast.

Becky Clements, 56, evacuated Charles Lake after hearing he could take a direct hit. She and her family found an AirBnb hundreds of miles inland. Almost 15 years have passed since Hurricane Rita destroyed the city.

“The devastation that followed in our city and throughout this part of the state was just horrible,” Clements recalls. “Entire communities were taken away, never to exist again. … So knowing how devastating storms are, there was no way we would stay for it. ”

The church educator said she feared for her office, which is in a trailer after recent construction.

“I really expect my office to be gone when I get back. He will be scattered throughout this field.

The hurricane also threatens a center of the US 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. Consumers are unlikely to see big price increases, however, as the pandemic has decimated demand for fuel.

“If Laura moves further west towards Houston, there will be a much bigger gasoline supply problem,” oil analyst Andrew Lipow said, as refineries typically take two to three weeks to pick up. their activities.

Laura moved closer to the United States after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where they cut off the power and caused intense flooding.

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Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia, and Plaisance from Stephensville, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include John L. Mone in Port Arthur, Texas; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Juan A. Lozano in Houston; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Julie Walker in New York and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta.

Click for full screen version of the map

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Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia, and Plaisance from Stephensville, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include Paul Weber in Austin, Texas; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge; Louisiana; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Julie Walker in New York and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta, Georgia.

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