Hurricane Laura updates: Storm now Category 4 with 'unsurvivable storm surge' expected

ABC NewsBy KARMA ALLEN and MAX GOLEMBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Laura is a Category 4 hurricane with “unsurvivable storm surge” expected in some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“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 NHC 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 NHC said. Residents are urged to brace for “widespread damaging wind gusts” that will spread well inland across parts of those areas early Thursday morning.

Here’s how the news is developing today. All times Eastern.

3:24 p.m.: Louisiana’s Cameron Parish expected to be underwater

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging residents in the southwestern part of the state to pay especially close attention to the storm as it approaches landfall in Cameron Parish early Thursday morning.

The governor said the hurricane could bring storm surges that residents haven’t seen since a 1957.

The state has activated its entire National Guard, something it hasn’t done in “many years,” according to the governor.

“This is a very serious storm — I don’t think I have ever held a press conference to take something as seriously as I am right now,” Bel Edwards told reporters. “Our state hasn’t seen a storm surge like this in many decades. Same with wind speeds.”

Forecasters say residents should expect to see storm surge of up to 18-20 feet. The majority of Cameron Parish will be totally underwater at some point, according to the NHC.

The state said it has reserved 2,000 hotel rooms for residents in need. On Tuesday night it put up some 800 people in hotel rooms.

2:26 p.m.: Major airlines issue waivers as storm cancels flights

All major U.S. airlines — United, Southwest, Delta, American and JetBlue — have issued weather waivers to allow travelers to adjust flights potentially impacted by Hurricane Laura without fees.

There are currently 643 storm-related flight cancellations, according to FlightAware.

More than 400 of today’s cancellations are at Houston Bush International Airport, representing about 60% of their total flights.

2:14 p.m.: Texas governor says to “get out of harm’s way”

Texas has added three more counties to the state’s disaster declaration, covering most of East Texas and bringing the total number to 36.

“I urge anyone in harm’s way to get out of harm’s way,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a briefing. “Because of the power of this storm, if you are unable or do not get out of harm’s way … for almost a 24-hour time period there will be no ability for rescuers and aiders to get in and assist you in any way.”

The state has dedicated 400 buses, 38 aircraft, 82 boats and 202 high profile vehicles to disaster relief, authorities say. It also ordered 60 ambulances and an additional 75 para-transit vehicles to assist in moving residents.

More than 5,000 people are already sheltered and officials are preparing for many more.

The expected storm surge, described by officials as “unsurvivable,” could continue inland for about 30 miles.

1:52 p.m.: Laura is now a Category 4 storm

Laura has strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph.

The center of the storm is about 200 miles southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and about 200 miles southeast of Port Arthur, Texas

The storm will bring catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding to the Gulf Coast tonight, says the National Hurricane Center.

Little time remains to protect life and property, authorities say.

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.

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