SABINE PASS, Texas — Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday in southwestern Louisiana near the Texas border as a Category 4 storm with a potentially “unsurvivable” storm surge and “extremely dangerous” winds up to 150 mph.
Rivaling the infamous Hurricane Katrina of 2005, Laura is forecast to bring “catastrophic damage” to the Gulf Coast, with floodwaters possibly reaching up to 40 miles inland from the coastline and remaining for days, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm’s eyewall roared ashore over Cameron Parish near Lake Charles, Louisiana, about 1 a.m. CDT.
“The safest place to be during a major landfalling hurricane is in a reinforced interior room away from windows. Get under a table or other piece of sturdy furniture. Use mattresses, blankets or pillows to cover your head and body. Remain in place through the passage of these life-threatening conditions,” the hurricane center said.
The hurricane center said there will be damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine lakes.
There were possible tornadoes approaching southeastern Louisiana and extreme southwestern Mississippi, the hurricane center said in its 8 p.m. CDT update. The storm’s maximum sustained winds reached 150 mph, a “chilling” development, according to the hurricane center.
On Twitter, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he ordered the state to close Interstate 10 eastbound at the Texas-Louisiana border and westbound west of the Atchafalaya Basin.
Officials urged roughly 7,000 residents to evacuate from a coastal Louisiana parish that could be covered by ocean water when Laura makes landfall. But at least 150 people refused to leave, officials said.
“It’s a very sad situation,” Ashley Buller, assistant director of the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”
Edwards said: “They’re thinking Cameron Parish is going to look like an extension of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days.”
Laura, which grew to a Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon, is forecast to bring a “catastrophic” storm surge, “extreme winds and flash flooding to eastern Texas and Louisiana, according to the hurricane center.
Water levels were rising quickly late Wednesday night and early Thursday due to storm surge and the tide, the hurricane center said.
The National Weather Service has urged people who have been ordered to evacuate to take shelter in sturdy structures in a room away from windows.
“Dangerous winds will last for hours in many locations tonight and/or tomorrow,” NWS tweeted.
Laura is the strongest August hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since infamous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said.
More than half a million people were ordered to evacuate as the storm approached, including the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur.
“Hurricane Laura is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane,” President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “My Administration remains fully engaged with state & local emergency managers to continue preparing and assisting the great people (of) Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.”
Edwards has activated the entire Louisiana National Guard for Laura. Several refineries along the Gulf Coast have also shut down before the hurricane makes landfall.
It’s the first major hurricane of the 2020 season.
“We are expecting widespread power outages, trees down. Homes and businesses will be damaged,” said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles. “I’m telling you, this is going to be a very serious situation.”
The hurricane center said parts of the Louisiana coast from Johnson Bayou to the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge could see waters rise as much as 20 feet from “the combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide.”
Storm surge could reach as far as 30 miles inland from the coastline, the hurricane center said. “Actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion as water levels will begin to rise later today.”
Edwards said he expects Interstate 10 in Lake Charles and beyond to go under water, hampering search-and-rescue efforts. “It will be inundated,” he said Wednesday.
Founded in the late 1800s, Sabine Pass has been smashed repeatedly in recent years, first by Rita in 2005, then Ike in 2008.
The hurricane threatens a center of the U.S. energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and 61% of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.
After Laura makes landfall, the storm is expected to weaken rapidly as it makes its way north, then turns northeast.
The most recent major hurricane to make landfall in Texas was Harvey in 2017, which had 130-mph maximum winds, Klotzbach said. In Louisiana, it was Rita in 2005, with 115-mph maximum winds.
The Atlantic hurricane season has been a record-breaker. Laura is the earliest L-named storm in the Atlantic Basin, breaking a record held by Luis, which formed Aug. 29, 1995. This season has had 13 named storms, which is well above-normal activity.