Hurricane Laura is approaching the western coast of Louisiana and is expected to make landfall early Thursday as “an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” according to the National Hurricane Center. The massive storm will bring an “unsurvivable” storm surge of up to 20 feet, which will likely cause “catastrophic” damage between the Texas side of Sabine Pass and Intracoastal City, Lousiana, including inland Sabine Lake on the shores of Port Arthur and Calcasieu Lake on the approaches to the city of Lake Charles. The region is a major center for refining and petrochemical manufacturing.
“The storm surge is going to be a huge threat to life and, in fact, the National Weather Service took the unprecedented step of saying the storm surge is going to be unsurvivable,” said Lousiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, speaking to Fox News. “This is a big one . . . I will tell you we are certain that at this time tomorrow we will be doing search and rescue for a large number of individuals.”
Officials in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana have issued evacuation orders affecting hundreds of thousands of residents, and the states’ respective governors have urged citizens to get out of the storm’s path. Given the urgency of the message and the need to evacuate, designated shelter areas in some cities are filling up rapidly. About 5,000 evacuees have taken advantage of government-administered shelters throughout Texas so far, according to Gov. Greg Abbott. COVID-19 precautions have complicated the effort, and some localities are using only private hotel room vouchers for evacuee housing in order to minimize the risk of spread.
Preparations for the post-storm response are under way. The U.S. Coast Guard has pre-staged search and rescue assets in Texas and Louisiana, including shallow-draft boats and SAR helicopters. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is also deploying helicopter assets and both states have mobilized National Guard units.
Aviation assets may be particularly needed as the heavy storm surge expected during Laura may flood out major arterial roads. Jamie Rhome, the head of the storm surge forecast unit at the National Hurricane Center, told the New York Times that the surge could reach far inland enough to inundate Interstate 10, the main connection between coastal Texas and Louisiana.
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