Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Hurricane slams into Louisiana with 'unsurvivable' storm surge

Hurricane Laura likely to cause catastrophic damage with six-metre high walls of water sinking entire communities.

Hurricane Laura made landfall on Thursday in the US state of Louisiana as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm.

The hurricane is likely to cause catastrophic damage with an “unsurvivable storm surge” to the Gulf Coast near the Texas-Louisiana border. 

The National Hurricane Center said the storm made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana. It had maximum sustained winds of 240 kilometres per hour (150 miles per hour), making it the most powerful hurricane to strike the United States so far this year.

The storm’s power has raised fears of a six-metre (20-foot) storm surge capable of sinking entire communities on the coast.

Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate, but not everyone did before howling winds began buffeting trees back and forth in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Video footage and photos on social media showed torrents of rain flying sideways past street lights in Lake Charles, and streets covered with water closer to the coast. A sudden storm surge knocked over cameras meant to capture the hurricane’s effects.

With hours of violent weather ahead, officials said the extent of destruction likely would not be clear until daybreak when search-and-rescue missions will begin.

“It looks like it’s in full beast mode, which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said.

Powerless

Hurricane-force winds extending 95km (60 miles) from the storm’s centre neared the coast, forecasters said, and bands of heavy rain fell 48km (30 miles) from the beach in Lake Charles.

Forecasters said up to 38cm (15 inches) of rain could fall and issued a string of tornado warnings as the storm pushed on to land, but there were no immediate reports of damage. More than 150,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana.

Resident Trent Savoie, 31, said he was staying put. “With four kids and 100 farm animals, it’s just hard to move out,” he said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards fretted that the dire predictions were not resonating despite authorities putting more than 500,000 coastal residents under mandatory evacuation orders.

Officials said at least 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles in coastal Cameron Parish, which could be completely covered by ocean water.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”

Uninhabitable 

Edwards activated the state’s entire National Guard. In Lake Charles, Guard members drove school buses around neighbourhoods, offering to pick up families. Across the state line in Port Arthur, Texas, few stragglers boarded evacuation buses, and city officials announced two C-130 transport planes offered the last chance to leave.

A Category 4 hurricane can render wide areas uninhabitable for weeks or months and knock out power for just as long. The threat of such devastation posed a new disaster-relief challenge for a government already straining under the coronavirus pandemic. The parts of Louisiana that were under evacuation orders included areas turning up high rates of positive COVID-19 tests.

On Twitter, President Donald Trump urged coastal residents to heed officials.

Laura hit the US after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.

Laura will be the seventh named storm to strike the US this year, setting a new record for US landfalls by the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.


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