By David Jacobs | The Center Square
While residents of southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas should be on high alert, Hurricane Laura also could cause devastation much farther north than typical storms, officials and forecasters said Tuesday.
Laura is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane about 1 a.m. Thursday near the Louisiana/Texas border. Dangerous weather could arrive as early as midday Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
“We’ve got a little bit of time left to get ready,” he said.
Edwards said all of coastal Louisiana should be prepared for up to 13 feet of storm surge, which is when storms push water levels higher than normal. In an unfortunate coincidence, 1 a.m. Thursday happens to be when the highest tide for the month is expected where the storm is projected to land.
Benjamin Schott, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said 115 miles-per-hour winds are expected with gusts up to 140 miles per hour. He said wind may do “devastating to catastrophic damage” as far as 50 miles inland.
Hurricane-force winds may be felt as far north as Alexandria or even Shreveport, Schott said. Tropical storm-force winds might be felt as far east as Baton Rouge. Five to 10 inches of rain likely will be common, and as much as 15 inches might fall in certain areas.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for all of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes and parts of Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes, while voluntary evacuations have been called for in several others. A federal disaster has been declared for basically the entire southern half of the state, and declarations will be filed for parishes in central and northwest Louisiana, Edwards said.
Residents who need to evacuate are urged to use their own vehicles and stay in hotels if they are able. Officials have secured hotel rooms for evacuees and plan to open mass shelters only as a last resort. Residents who need help evacuating are urged to contact their local office of emergency preparedness as soon as possible, since it is expected to be too dangerous to travel by Wednesday afternoon.
Edwards’ current executive order laying out COVID-19 restrictions expires Friday, and he plans to announce Wednesday if there will be any changes. Testing has been suspended this week because of Laura and Tropical Storm Marco, making it difficult to measure the impact of the recent reopening of schools and college campuses, he noted.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday added 36 more counties at risk of severe rain, wind and flooding to the disaster declaration he issued Sunday, which initially covered 23 counties. Much of east Texas could see heavy rain, leading to flash and river flooding, he said.
“There will be a lot of devastation wreaked upon Texas as the storm sweeps through,” he said.
Abbott said storm surge could be as high as 10 feet near where Laura makes landfall and lower but still significant in nearby areas. People and property could be “swept away” by rising water, he said.
But unlike Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas exactly three years ago, Laura is expected to be more of a wind event in the state than a rain event. Houston and areas west of Houston could fall into the “danger zone” of high wind, Abbott said, and areas as far north as Nacogdoches and Texarkana could feel tropical storm-force winds.
Texas communities where local officials have issued mandatory evacuations include Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Newton and Orange counties and the cities of Galveston and Port Arthur. Reception Centers for evacuees have been set up in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Ellis County.
Abbott said the storm seems to be moving quickly and could be out of Texas by the end of Thursday. He said precautions will be taken at shelters to allow for distance between households to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 and urged people to evacuate to a hotel if possible.
“We have only a few more hours for people to make sure they take the action that is needed to ensure their safety and the safety of their property,” Abbott said during an early-afternoon press conference. “We urge swift action to be taken over the next 12 hours.”
According to the National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Laura advisory update Tuesday afternoon, the storm was about 480 miles southeast of Lake Charles and about 510 miles southeast of Galveston. It was heading west-northwest at 17 miles per hour with sustained winds of up to 80 miles per hour.
A storm surge warning was in effect from San Luis Pass, Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi River, including areas inside the Port Arthur Hurricane Flood Protection system.
A hurricane warning, meaning hurricane conditions were expected, was in effect from San Luis Pass, Texas to Intracoastal City Louisiana.