Hurricane Laura pummeled the Gulf Coast on Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and storm surge waters, exceeding 9 feet in some parts of Louisiana.
Laura slightly weakened from a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds to a Category 3 after making landfall around 2 a.m. eastern time, near Cameron, Louisiana. The storm is 30 miles north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update.
“At the time of landfall, Laura was a ferocious looking hurricane with a clear circular eye, an intense eyewall, and tightly-coiled surrounding spiral bands,” the NHC said.
Laura has “unsurvivable” storm surge, according to the NHC, capable of penetrating 40 miles inland from the Louisiana-Texas coast, as much as 20 feet high in some places. Thus far, most areas around the coast have received surge levels higher than 3 feet, but certain areas have recorded over 9 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s storm surge map.
The storm is expected to see massive weakening as it continues on its northwest continental path toward Arkansas, with a forecast of its maximum sustained winds dropping to 75 mph within the next 12 hours, according to the 5 a.m. update.
For now, Laura’s hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from its center and its tropical-storm-force winds reach up to 175 miles.
Over 288,000 Louisiana customers are riding out the storm in the dark without power Thursday morning, along with another 70,000 Texas customers, according to Poweroutage.US.
Videos on social media showed Laura’s winds battering a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground, according to the Associated Press.
“There are some people still in town and people are calling … but there ain’t no way to get to them,” Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early Thursday morning over the phone as he hunkered down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.
Officials said search and rescue missions would begin as soon as conditions allowed, along with damage assessments.
Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 and set out for Baton Rouge, Louisiana Wednesday morning with a crew of 40 firefighters from Orlando Fire Department, Orange County Fire Rescue and Seminole County Fire Department, which included a host of firefighters, paramedics, structural engineers, doctors, search and rescue K9s, and other highly-trained specialists. The crew is working with the Louisiana State Fire Marshal and will be performing water and urban area rescues as needed.
Some areas are still under advisories: a storm surge warning is in effect for High Island Texas to the Mouth of the Mississippi River; a hurricane warning is in effect for High Island to Intracoastal City, Louisiana; and a tropical storm warning from East of Intracoastal City, Louisiana to the Mouth of the Mississippi River
Several advisories were canceled including a storm surge warning west of High Island; a tropical storm warning from San Luis Pass to High Island; and a hurricane watch from east of Intracoastal City to west of Morgan City, Louisiana .
Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the U.S. this year, setting a new record for U.S. landfalls by the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
More than 580,000 coastal residents were under orders to flee in the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars since officials didn’t want to open mass shelters and worsen the spread of COVID-19. But in Cameron Parish, where Laura came ashore, officials said at least 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles. The result could be deadly since forecasters said the parish could be completely covered by ocean water.
Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.
The area’s population still recalls the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when catastrophic flooding breached the levees in New Orleans and as many as 1,800 people died.
Elsewhere in the tropics, the NHC expects a tropical wave moving off the west coast of Africa Wednesday night that has a slight chance of forming into the next tropical depression or tropical storm as it makes its way into the mid-Atlantic. The NHC gives it a 20% chance of formation in the next five days.