By AP and published by US News
LAKE ARTHUR, La.- Hurricane Laura pounded the Gulf Coast for hours with ferocious wind, torrential rains and rising seawater as it roared ashore over southwestern Louisiana near the Texas border early Thursday, threatening the lives of people who didn’t evacuate.
Authorities had ordered coastal residents to get out, but not everyone did in an area devastated by Rita in 2005.
Laura’s howling winds battered a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground. Hours after landfall, the wind and rain were still blowing too hard to check for survivors.
“There are some people still in town and people are calling … but there ain’t no way to get to them,” Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early Thursday morning over the phone as he hunkered down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.
Guillory said he hopes stranded people can be rescued later Thursday but fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could get in the way.
“We know anyone that stayed that close to the coast, we’ve got to pray for them, because looking at the storm surge, there would be little chance of survival,” Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC’s Good Morning America.
With nearly 470,000 homes and businesses without power in the two states, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.
The National Hurricane Centre said Laura slammed the coast with winds of 241 kmp (150 mph) at 1 a.m. CDT as a Category 4 hurricane near Cameron, a 400-person community about 48 kilometres (30 miles ) east of the Texas border.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage,” forecasters warned. They said the storm surge could reach 15-20 feet in Port Arthur, Texas, and a stretch of Louisiana including Lake Charles, a city of 80,000 people on Lake Calcasieu.
“This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days,” the hurricane center said.
Forecasters said Laura remained a Category 2 hurricane about 6 hours after making landfall, with sustained winds of 160 kph (100 mph ). Its centre was moving north, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Fort Polk, Louisiana. Damaging winds reached outward as far as 280 kilometres (175 miles).
Dick Gremillion, the emergency director in Calcasieu Parish, said hours after landfall that they hadn’t been able to get out and look for damage.
More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars since officials didn’t want to open mass shelters and worsen the spread of Covid-19.
But in Cameron Parish, where Laura came ashore, Nungesser said 50 to 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles. The result could be deadly, since some houses weren’t raised high enough to withstand the massive storm surge.
“It’s a very sad situation,” said Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”
Becky Clements, 56, didn’t take chances; she evacuated from Lake Charles after hearing that it could take a direct hit. With memories of the destruction almost 15 years ago by Hurricane Rita, she and her family found an Airbnb hundreds of miles inland.
“The devastation afterward in our town and that whole corner of the state was just awful,” Clements recalled Wednesday. “Whole communities were washed away, never to exist again.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor urged people in Laura’s path to stay home, if that’s still safe. “Don’t go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk and you put first responders at risk,” he told “CBS This Morning.”
Top: A building that was damaged overnight by Hurricane Laura stands in Lake Charles, La., Thursday, August 27, 2020. Photo: Stephen Jones via AP and published by US News
The video clip below published by CBS Miami shows lightning bursts a satellite captured as Hurricane Laura moved toward the Gulf Coast on August 26. The National Hurricane Centre called the storm a “major hurricane” with potential to cause “catastrophic” storm surge Wednesday night into Thursday morning.