Laura, now a Category 2 hurricane, still extremely dangerous

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LAKE ARTHUR, LA. – Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast for hours with fierce winds, torrential rains and rising seawater as it roared over southwest Louisiana near the Texas border early Thursday, threatening the lives of those who did not evacuate. Authorities had ordered coastal residents to get out, but not everyone did in an area devastated by Rita in 2005.

Laura’s howling winds hit a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing windows like glass as debris flew to the ground. A few hours after landing, the wind and rain were still blowing too hard to detect the survivors.

“There are still people in town and people are calling … but there is no way to reach them,” said Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu parish police jury, early Thursday morning on the phone as ‘he curled up. in a government building in Lake Charles that was shaking from the storm.

Guillory said he hopes those stranded can be rescued later Thursday, but fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could be stranded.

“We know all those who have stayed so close to the coast, we must pray for them, because looking at the storm surge there would be little chance of survival,” Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC on Good Morning America.

With nearly 470,000 homes and businesses without power in both states, near constant lightning provided the only light for some.

The National Hurricane Center said Laura hit the coast with winds of 150 mph (241 km / h) at 1 a.m. CDT as a Category 4 hurricane near Cameron, a community of around 400 people. miles east of the Texas border.

“An insurvable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage,” forecasters warned. They said the storm surge could reach 15 to 20 feet in Port Arthur, Texas, and parts of Louisiana, including Lake Charles.

“This wave could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate shoreline, and the floodwaters will not fully recede for several days,” the hurricane center said.

Within hours of making landfall, Laura was still a Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 175 km / h. Its center was beyond Charles Lake, moving north at about 24 km / h, but with damaging winds that extended over much of Louisiana and parts of eastern Texas, reaching up to 280 kilometers from the center of Laura.

Dick Gremillion, the emergency director of the parish of Calcasieu, said hours after they got ashore that they had not been able to get out and search for damage.

“The wind is still over 50 km / h. We will have to drop considerably before we can even make emergency calls. We also need daylight, ”Gremillion said in an interview with KPLC-TV.

More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and many have done so, filling hotels and sleeping in cars as authorities refused to open any mass shelter and worsen the spread of COVID-19.

But in Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall, Nungesser said 50 to 150 people had refused to leave and were planning to weather the storm in everything from raised houses to recreational vehicles. The result could be fatal, as some houses were not high enough to withstand the massive storm surge.

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

Becky Clements, 56, didn’t take any chances; she evacuated from Charles Lake after hearing that it could take a direct hit. With memories of the destruction nearly 15 years ago by Hurricane Rita, she and her family found an Airbnb hundreds of miles inland.

“The devastation that followed in our city and throughout this part of the state was just horrible,” Clements recalled Wednesday. “Entire communities were taken away, never to exist again. ”

Forecasters expected a weakened Laura to cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. An unusual tropical storm warning was issued as far north as Little Rock, where forecasters were expecting gusts of 50 mph (80 km / h) and a deluge of rain through Friday. After turning east and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, it could turn back into a tropical storm and threaten the northeast.

Laura struck 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 she cut power and caused intense flooding.

Laura was the seventh named storm to hit the United States this year, setting a new record for American landings at the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Plaisance from Stephensville, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; 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

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