Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana early Thursday as a strong Category 4 storm, bringing winds approaching 150 mph, rising water, extensive damage and power outages that affected hundreds of thousands.
The National Hurricane Center described the hurricane as “extremely dangerous” as it moved across the state, warning of catastrophic storm surges, extreme winds and flash flooding across portions of low-lying Louisiana.
“Doppler radar images indicate that the eye of Hurricane Laura has made landfall at the coast near Cameron, Louisiana,” the agency said, noting the storm would likely move inland over southwest Louisiana and Arkansas later Thursday evening.
Several hours after making landfall, the hurricane weakened to a Category 2 storm and was predicted to become a tropical storm later in the day. However maximum sustained winds remained near 110 mph, with higher gusts.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause
catastrophic damage,” the National Hurricane Center said Thursday morning, warning that high water could persist for several days.
Nearly 470,000 homes and businesses in Texas and Louisiana had lost power by Thursday morning, according to The Associated Press.
The National Weather Service forecasts that Laura will become a tropical storm later Thursday.
Initial reports from Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana showed water level rise of more than 9 feet, the National Ocean Service said. Wind gusts at the Lake Charles, Louisiana, airport reached 128 mph.
There were already reports of massive storm surges in Louisiana early Thursday:
More than half a million people in Texas and Louisiana had been urged to flee from their homes as Hurricane Laura hurtled toward the U.S. It’s likely the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. so far this year.
A storm surge warning is in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana, The Weather Channel reported. Life-threatening surges of up to 20 feet could deluge some areas. Officials had pleaded with residents to evacuate.
“Heed the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today,” Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator at the National Weather Service, told The Associated Press. “It’s a serious day, and you need to listen to them.”
Extreme winds are expected in some areas, and heavy rains could inundate communities far inland over the next few days.
Some parts of Louisiana are expecting record flooding.
The Calcasieu River, for example, which runs through the city of Lake Charles, is forecast to rise to 15.6 feet by Thursday morning. According to CNN, this would far outstrip the previous record of 13 feet, which was set in 1913.
Though the full effects of Laura can’t yet be known, Category 4 hurricanes are capable of causing extraordinary damage. As AP noted, hurricanes of that strength have been known to cause months-long power outages and render entire communities uninhabitable for weeks or even months.
Laura has killed at least 23 people to date — 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.
Marina Fang contributed reporting.