LAKE CHARLES, La. (NewsNation) — Laura is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday before making landfall on the Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In the largest U.S. evacuation of the pandemic, more than half a million people were ordered to flee the coast on Tuesday as Laura strengthened into a hurricane that forecasters said could slam Texas and Louisiana with ferocious winds, heavy flooding and the power to push seawater miles inland.
More than 385,000 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.
Laura grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to reach Category 3 status, with maximum sustained winds around 115 mph on Wednesday morning. As of the National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. ET update, the storm was about 280 miles out from Lake Charles, Louisiana, moving northwest at 15 mph.
The NHC said the storm is expected to produce a life-threatening storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding over eastern Texas and Louisiana later Wednesday.
Top winds of 130 mph 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.
Laura is expected to approach the upper Texas and Southwest Louisiana coasts Wednesday night, then moving inland near those areas late Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Ocean water was expected to push onto land along more than 450 miles of coast from Texas to Mississippi.
President Donald Trump expanded emergency declarations for Louisiana and Texas Tuesday. The move authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts that are intended to help those affected by Hurricanes Laura and Marco.
Watches and warnings:
- A storm surge warning is in effect for:
- Freeport Texas to the Mouth of the Mississippi River
- A hurricane warning is in effect for:
- San Luis Pass Texas to Intracoastal City Louisiana
- A tropical storm warning is in effect for:
- Sargent Texas to San Luis Pass
- East of Intracoastal City Louisiana to the Mouth of the Mississippi River
- A storm surge watch is in effect for:
- Mouth of the Mississippi River to Ocean Springs Mississippi
- Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Borgne
- A hurricane watch is in effect for:
- East of Intracoastal City to west of Morgan City Louisiana
Along with the heavy rain and the storm surge threat, destructive winds are also likely for areas near Laura’s center of circulation for parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana. A few tornadoes may affect Louisiana, southeast Texas and southwestern Mississippi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.