Hurricane Laura, now an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm, approaches the western Louisiana and upper Texas coast and is expected to make landfall with devastating effect overnight.
We're reporting Wednesday's weather developments, preparations, evacuation efforts and impacts here.
9 p.m. Wednesday
Little in the forecast has changed as Hurricane Laura nears the northwest Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm.
Catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding are all still expected as Laura makes landfall overnight. It is possible the storm will continue to strengthen before it reaches land, where it should rapidly weaken.
As of 7 p.m., an NOAA Hurricane Hunter plane had measured maximum sustained winds near 150 mph, with higher gusts.
As of 9 p.m., Laura is about 90 miles from Lake Charles.
Atornado watch has been issued for parts of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
5 p.m. Wednesday
The New Orleans-Baton Rouge National Weather Service office says bands of Hurricane Laura moving through the region could produce “brief, spin-up tornadoes and locally heavy rainfall” into the night.
4:15 p.m. Wednesday
The National Weather Service office in Lake Charles issued this warning on Twitter:
For folks living along the immediate coast, it's time to hunker down from rising storm surge.
-Remain sheltered in a safe location. Do not venture outside.
-Move to upper floors to escape rising water if necessary.
3:30 p.m. Wednesday
Beauregard Parish residents are under a “strong recommendation” to evacuate, said Deputy Scott Greenmun, the parish director of the Beauregard Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“Earlier today, the traffic was getting kind of backed up on the highway, bottlenecking a little bit, but it's moving pretty smoothly the last word I got. So I'm hoping people are heeding the warning to get out now,” Greenmun said.
People are being told to head east or west. Those that can’t are able to stay at the parish’s last-resort shelter, where their temperature will be checked and they’ll be provided with a mask.
“We're trying to follow the CDC guidelines,” he said.
Greenmun predicts widespread damage to homes, trees down, and flooding in the southern part of the parish.
“It's gonna be a task for us to search and rescue because the first thing we're gonna try to do is get the roads cleared so we can get to these residences,” he said.
He said it could take “weeks or months” to fully restore power to the parish.
2:45 p.m. Wednesday
The American Red Cross of Louisiana has been coordinating with state and parish officials ahead of Hurricane Laura’s landfall.
“We've been also responding to individual requests from parishes for shelter kits and comfort kits that have hygiene items in them, and even pre-staging cots in certain areas,” said Stephanie Wagner, the communications director.
The Red Cross is not running shelters at this time; instead, it’s assisting state efforts led by the Department of Children and Family Services.
Shelters are still considered a last resort for people who’ve evacuated. If used, people will be required to wear masks, have their temperature checked, and use hand sanitizer. Shelters will also be divided between those with and without symptoms of COVID-19, Wagner said.
Much of the Red Cross’s supporting work can be done remotely, Wagner added, including mental health services for those who need it in Laura’s wake.
2 p.m. Wednesday
Colin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, in a press conference said the city continues to monitor Hurricane Laura for “any type of last minute wobble” and for possible effects from feeder bands.
The storm is supposed to make landfall overnight.
Areas of Orleans Parish outside of levee protection remain under voluntary evacuation, as there is still potential for some storm surge.
Within the levee system, even a thunderstorm can cause street flooding, so parking restrictions are still lifted.
Winds aren’t a concer right now, but Arnold said that could change.
Assessing the Incident Management Team and Urban Search and Rescue Team to be ready to help with rescues and other aid. Already, New Orleans’ 911 center is sending emergency communicators to Baton Rouge. Arnold called it a “pretty novel request.”
Water levels are beginning to rise along the Louisiana coast, the National Hurricane Center reported at 2 p.m.
A National Ocean Service water level station at Eugene Island measured 3.2 feet of water above ground level.
Meanwhile, tornado warnings were issued in Baton Rouge, Arlington, Marrydale, Alsen, Port Allen, Erwinville, Morganza and Ravenswood until 2:45 p.m.
1:30 p.m. Wednesday
Gov. Edwards has urged anyone living in an area with a mandatory or voluntary evacuation order to leave immediately.
“I don’t think there has ever been a press conference where it was my intention to convey the sense of urgency that I’m trying to convey right now,” Edwards said.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Calcasieu and Cameron parishes ahead of Hurricane Laura’s arrival later today.
Edwards said the last time Louisiana experienced storm surge this deadly was during Hurricane Audrey in 1957. Because most Louisianans have never experienced a storm of this magnitude, Edwards said he’s afraid people who made it through Hurricane Rita in 2005 may be lulled into a false sense of security until it's too late.
“If you think you’re safe because you made it through Rita in southwest Louisiana, understand that this storm is going to be more powerful,” Edwards said. “Even if you built back stronger and you’re up at 15 feet elevation, understand that the storm surge is expected to be 18 to 20 feet in the immediate area where this storm makes landfall.”
1 p.m. Wednesday
Laura has strengthened into "an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane," the National Hurricane Center reports.
As of 1 p.m., Laura's maximum wind speed is 140 mph.
"Little time remains to protect life and property before water levels begin to rise and winds increase in the warning areas," the update says.
12:45 p.m. Wednesday
Gov. John Bel Edwards will extend the state’s Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions for another two weeks. Edwards made the announcement today as he briefed media ahead of Hurricane Laura’s landfall later tonight.
There are two reasons for the extension, Edwards said. First, state-wide testing has been suspended as a result of Laura and the earlier threat of Tropical Storm Marco.
Second, mass evacuations of Cameron and Calcasieu Parish will thrust people from one of the regions with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections to areas across the state.
Officials say evacuation plans were created to minimize the spread of the coronavirus by putting people in hotels and motels as much as possible, but it’s unclear what impact the expected catastrophic storm will have on the already deadly pandemic.
11:20 a.m. Wednesday
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said not enough people are evacuating the city ahead of the storm’s early impacts expected later today.
The city of roughly 78,000 is directly in the path of Hurricane Laura, now forecast to make landfall tonight as a Category 4 hurricane. It, and all of Calcasieu Parish, are under a mandatory evacuation order, but Hunter said too many people are not heeding the order.
“This is a last-ditch effort over the next hour, hour and a half for people to try and get out of town,” he told New Orleans Public Radio at 8:45 Wednesday morning.
The threats to Lake Charles are multiple and extremely serious: storm surge, hurricane-force winds and possibly days following the storm without electricity, water or sewer services.
State officials are comparing the storm to Hurricane Rita, which devastated the area in 2005, just a month after Hurricane Katrina.
“A lot of people that stayed for Rita that would not stay again or said that they would never do that again — and we're pleading with them right now to stop the internal debate, stop the waffling and get out of Lake Charles,” Hunter said.
10 a.m. Wednesday
The forecast for Hurricane Laura is largely unchanged in the National Hurricane Center's 10 a.m. update.
The top line: "Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes."
"Only a few hours remain to protect life and property and all actions should be rushed to completion," the report adds.
Hurricane-force winds are expected to arrive tonight from San Luis Pass, Texas, to west of Morgan City, Louisiana. The damage near the storm's eyewall is expected to be catastrophic.
7 a.m. Wednesday
Hurricane Laura is now a Category 3 hurricane and could strengthen to Category 4 later today as it heads for the Louisiana-Texas border, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported Wednesday morning.
“Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions,” the public advisory says.
The center predicts life-threatening storm surge and devastating wind damage. Trees will be snapped or uprooted, the NHC reports, and even well-built homes could be damaged. Storm surge could be 10 to 15 feet high between Sea Rim State Park, Texas, and Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and could penetrate as far as 30 miles inland in some places. Electricity and water will be unavailable for days or even weeks.
Widespread flash flooding is expected Wednesday afternoon and into Thursday along small streams, in urban areas, and on roadways from far eastern Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas.
As of 7 a.m., an NHC buoy had measured a sustained wind speed of 74 mph, a wind gust of 107 mph, and a 37-foot-high wave. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 175 miles.
On Tuesday evening, Gov. John Bel Edwards said that "by about noon tomorrow, people in Louisiana need to be where they intend to ride this storm out and they need to be postured accordingly with their families.”
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, which have some of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the state.
Edwards urged evacuees to drive their families to safety in their own cars if possible and to stay in hotel rooms or with relatives to avoid large congregate shelters where the virus could spread more easily. Evacuation buses will be stocked with personal protective equipment and disinfectant.
The majority of evacuees are being routed to Baton Rouge. State officials expect the Capital Region to avoid severe damage from the storm.
“There is still obviously a lot of COVID in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “That has impacted the way we are going to be sheltering.”
Edwards said the Federal Emergency Management Administration has, for the first time, approved the use of hotel and motel rooms as government-funded sheltering locations for individuals and families before the storm makes landfall.
“We have booked hundreds of rooms across Louisiana and have been transporting individuals and families to those rooms throughout the course of the day.”
He added that the state has assisted in evacuating residents of several nursing homes in the path of the storm to safe facilities in Kilgore, Texas.