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Hurricane Laura becomes 115mph Category 3 storm as it takes aim at Louisiana and Texas

Hurricane Laura has become a devastating Category 3 bringing with it 115mph winds and 13-foot storm surges that threatens to smash homes and sink entire communities in Louisiana and Texas as more than half a million people flee both states. 

Forecasters even expect Laura to rapidly power up into a ‘catastrophic’ Category 4 hurricane. Satellite images show Laura has become ‘a formidable hurricane’ in recent hours, threatening to smash homes and sink entire communities.

Hurricane Laura is about 280 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 115mph. A Category 4 hurricane can pack winds of up to 156mph. 

It has undergone a remarkable intensification, ‘and there are no signs it will stop soon,’ the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early Wednesday.

The storm was moving at about 15mph. Storm surge along the Gulf Coast could raise water levels to as high as 12 feet to 15 feet in Intracoastal City and Morgan City, Louisiana, and Laura was expected to drop 5 to 10 inches of rain over the region, the NHC said. 

‘Some areas, when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,’ said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist. ‘We could see storm surge heights more than 15 feet in some areas,’ Stewart said. ‘What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.’

In its 7am advisory, the National Hurricane Center said: ‘Steps to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the next few hours.’  

‘Devastating wind damage will occur near where #Laura makes landfall in the hurricane warning area. Well-built homes may incur major damage, trees will be snapped or uprooted, and electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks,’ the center added. 

A Category 4 hurricane will do catastrophic damage: ‘Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months,’ the weather service says. 

Top winds of 130mph are now predicted before landfall, pushing water onto more than 450 miles of coast from Texas to Mississippi.  

Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and storm surge warnings from the Port Arthur, Texas, flood protection system to the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

In the largest US evacuation of the pandemic, more than half a million people were ordered Tuesday to flee from an area of the Gulf Coast along the Texas-Louisiana state line.

More than 420,000 residents were told to evacuate the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur. 

Another 200,000 were ordered to leave the low-lying Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in southwestern Louisiana, where forecasters said as much as 13 feet of storm surge topped by waves could submerge whole communities.

Officials say the storm surges and downpour of rain could leave an area the size of Rhode Island in Louisiana underwater.

The storm was also expected to spawn tornadoes Wednesday night over Louisiana, far southeastern Texas, and southwestern Mississippi, the NHC said. 

On Tuesday locals in Louisiana boarded up their homes and business and filled sandbags to keep their houses dry. In Galveston, Texas, long lines of locals waited to board buses to be taken to Austin to wait out the storm. 

‘If you decide to stay, you’re staying on your own,’ Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said. 

Urging people in southwest Louisiana to evacuate before it’s too late, Louisiana Gov John Bel Edwards said they need to reach wherever they intend to ride out the storm by noon Wednesday, when the state will start feeling the storm’s effects.

‘Wherever you are by noon is where you’ll have to ride out the storm. Be smart and be safe,’ Edwards tweeted. 

Officials urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Buses were stocked with protective equipment and disinfectant, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people apart, Texas officials said.

Whitney Frazier, 29, of Beaumont spent Tuesday morning trying to get transportation to a high school where she could board a bus to leave the area.

‘Especially with everything with COVID going on already on top of a mandatory evacuation, it´s very stressful,’ Frazier said.

Shelters opened with cots set farther apart to curb coronavirus infections. Evacuees were told to bring a mask and just one bag of personal belongings each.

‘Hopefully it’s not that threatening to people, to lives, because people are hesitant to go anywhere due to COVID,’ Robert Duffy said as he placed sandbags around his home in Morgan City, Louisiana. ‘Nobody wants to sleep on a gym floor with 200 other people. It’s kind of hard to do social distancing.’

Kathleen Tierney, the former director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, said: ‘We need to be concerned about the federal capacity to respond to a major hurricane disaster, particularly in light of failings that are all too obvious in the public health area. I really worry: Who’s minding the store?’

Laura also is expected to dump massive rainfall over a short period of time as it moves inland, causing widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. 

Flash flood watches were issued for much of Arkansas, and forecasters said heavy rainfall could move to parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky late Friday and Saturday.

Weather experts say that Laura underwent what’s known as ‘rapid intensification’, a phenomenon where a tropical cycle intensifies by at least 35mph in a 24-hour period.

‘Rapid intensification occurs when a tropical storm or hurricane encounters an extremely conducive environment. Typically, this environment consists of very warm water, low vertical wind shear and high levels of mid-level moisture,’ Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said to USA Today. 

The storm also imperiled a center of the US energy industry. The government said 84 per cent of Gulf oil production and an estimated 61 per cent of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.

Laura’s arrival comes just days before the August 29 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which breached the levees in New Orleans, flattened much of the Mississippi coast and killed as many as 1,800 people in 2005.

Less than a month later, Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana as a Category 3 storm.

While oil prices often spike before a major storm as production slows, consumers are unlikely to see big price changes because the pandemic decimated demand for fuel

Laura passed Cuba and Hispaniola, where it killed nearly two dozen people, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.

The deaths reportedly included a 10-year-old girl whose home was hit by a tree and a mother and young son crushed by a collapsing wall.

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