Laura strengthens into ‘extremely dangerous’ Category 4

Tropical_Weather_08634 A Cameron Parish Sheriff's deputy mans a roadblock in the rain on LA 27 as residents evacuate Cameron in Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_08847 Jada Lawson, wipes the face fo her daughter Skyler Lawson, 4, as they wait to board buses to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_22258 Helpers distribute water as people board buses to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_Louisiana_42592
APTOPIX_Tropical_Weather_08704 Victoria Nelson with her children Autum Nelson, 2, Shawn Nelson, 7, and Asia Nelson, 6, line up to board a bus to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_Louisiana_28628 Shawn Nelson, 7, right, and Asia Nelson, 6, left, board a bus to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_19970 Port Arthur firefighters check the temperatures of people arriving at the civic center where evacuation buses wait, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in the area Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_84550 People looking to evacuate the path of Hurricane Laura arrive at the civic center where evacuation buses wait, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in the area Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Tropical_Weather_08704 Victoria Nelson with her children Autum Nelson, 2, Shawn Nelson, 7, and Asia Nelson, 6, line up to board a bus to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_58233 People looking to evacuate the path of Hurricane Laura arrive at the civic center where evacuation buses wait, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in the area Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Tropical_Weather_28739 People line up to board buses to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_57975 Josue Blanco, left, and Alex Mendez photograph waves generated by Hurricane Laura as they crash into the rock groin at 37th Street in Galveston, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2020. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane before landfall. It's churning toward Texas and Louisiana, gathering wind and water that swirls over much of the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical_Weather_24123 This Aug.25, 2020, satellite image released by NASA shows Hurricane Laura churning in the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a "catastrophic" Category 4 hurricane before landfall. via AP)
CORRECTION_Tropical_Weather_Texas_57975 CORRECTS DATE TO AUG. 26, 2020 INSTEAD OF AUG. 27, 2020- Josue Blanco, left, and Alex Mendez photograph waves generated by Hurricane Laura as they crash into the rock groin at 37th Street in Galveston, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane before landfall. It's churning toward Texas and Louisiana, gathering wind and water that swirls over much of the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical_Weather_TEXAS_15127 John Prekosovich, left, and Joel Canales load a portable generator into A customer's vehicle at a Home Depot store as residents prepare for the possible landfall of Hurricane Laura, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 in Houston.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_62497 Beachgoers sit on the beach Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast.
Tiara Walker holds her dog, Buece, as she waits with her family to board a bus to evacuate Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. The evacuees are being taken to Austin, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast.
Southwest Louisiana residents wait for buses at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, La. to be evacuated to a shelter in Alexandria, La., Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A family walks to a charter bus that will evacuate them from Galveston Island to Austin in anticipation of impact from Hurricane Laura, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, at the Galveston Housing Authority offices in Galveston.
Owner Nick Gaido, top right, and Miguel Andrade secure a strap over a giant crab on the roof of Gaido's Seafood Restaurant, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast. The crab has been on display since 1960.
Terrell Bess, left, and Ethan Singer unlock the door to their hotel room as students from Texas A&M University at Galveston arrive at Aloft College Station on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in College Station, Texas. Bess and Singer were among dozens of students who evacuated by bus from the school before Hurricane Laura makes landfall.
Desiree Thomas, who is eight months pregnant, carries sandbags to protect her home from potential flooding from Hurricane Laura in Abbeville, La., Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Kelly Peltier and Nancy Evans unfurl plastic sheeting for the doors on the ground floor of their building on Post Office Street in downtown Galveston Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020. Residents and local business owners continued to make preparations for Hurricane Laura's arrival along the gulf coast.
Workers prepare for Hurricane Laura at the alternate State Operations Center at the Doubletree Hotel in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Gov. Greg Abbott puts on his mask after talking about Hurricane Laura at the alternate State Operations Center at the Doubletree Hotel in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday August 25, 2020.
Tropical_Weather_59121 This satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Hurricane Laura churning in the Gulf of Mexico, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane before landfall.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_26800 Cody Cloud takes a picture of the waves Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura moves toward the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane before landfall. It's churning toward Texas and Louisiana, gathering wind and water that swirls over much of the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_80559 A man walks along the beach Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura moves toward the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say Laura is rapidly intensifying and will become a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane before landfall. It's churning toward Texas and Louisiana, gathering wind and water that swirls over much of the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_70761 Owner Nick Gaido, top left, and Miguel Andrade secure a strap over a giant crab on the roof of Gaido's Seafood Restaurant, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast. The crab has been on display since 1960.
Tropical_Weather_TEXAS_19141 Gigi Hlavink purchases gas cans and other supplies at a Home Depot store while preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Laura on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 in Houston.
Tropical_Weather_TEXAS_56398 man, assistant operations manager, wheels a portable generator to the checkout stand for a customer at a Home Depot store as residents prepare for the possible landfall of Hurricane Laura on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 in Houston.
Tropical_Weather_Louisiana_05705 Municipal workers fill sandbags for the elderly and those with disabilities ahead of Hurricane Laura in Crowley, La., Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_28038 John Ray, top, boards up his house in Pirates Beach on the West End of Galveston with help from his friend Bryan Everett as Hurricane Laura tracks toward the upper Texas coast Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_43783 People wait in front of the Galveston Housing Authority offices to board charter busses that will evacuate them from Galveston Island to Austin in anticipation of impact from Hurricane Laura, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_70123 Issac Alvarado, right, and Kevin Enriquez board up windows on coastal decor store Bayside Chic, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast.
Tropical_Weather_Texas_95445 Evacuees board buses Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. The evacuees are being taken to Austin, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads toward the Gulf Coast.
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DELCAMBRE, La. (AP) — Laura strengthened Wednesday into a menacing Category 4 hurricane, raising fears of a 20-foot storm surge that forecasters said would be “unsurvivable” and capable of sinking entire communities. Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate and worried that not enough had fled.

The storm grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to a size the National Hurricane Center called “extremely dangerous.” Drawing energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, the system was on track to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday as the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

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

One major Louisiana highway already had standing water as Laura’s outer bands moved ashore. Winds began picking up as shoppers rushed into a grocery store in low-lying Delcambre, filling carts with chips and beer. Austin Domingues, 26, said his wife would likely evacuate, but he planned to stay put at his father’s farm, where the house is 14 feet off the ground.

“I don’t know if it’s too smart, but we’re going to stay just in case we need to help people out,” he said.

With time running out, both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed concerns that not enough coastal residents were taking the dire predictions seriously. In Lake Charles, National Guard members drove school buses around neighborhoods, offering to pick up families.

Abbott warned that families who do not get out of harm’s way could be cut off from help long after the storm makes landfall overnight.

The National Hurricane Center kept raising its estimate of Laura’s storm surge, from 10 feet just a couple of days ago to twice that size — a height that forecasters said would be especially deadly.

A Category 4 hurricane can cause damage so catastrophic that power outages may last for months in places, and wide areas could be uninhabitable for weeks or months. The threat of such devastation posed a new disaster-relief challenge for a government already straining to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

By Wednesday afternoon, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (225 kph) as it churned about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Lake Charles, Louisiana, moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph). Forecasters predict winds will reach at least 145 mph winds but may weaken ever so slightly before landfall.

“Heed the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today,” said Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator at the National Weather Service. “It’s a serious day and you need to listen to them.”

On Twitter, President Donald Trump also urged coastal residents to heed local officials. Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and reached inland for 200 miles (322 kilometers). Storm surge warnings were in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In the largest U.S. evacuation during this pandemic era, more than half a million people were ordered to flee from their homes near the Texas-Louisiana state line, including the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur, and the low-lying Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in southwestern Louisiana, where forecasters said storm surge topped by waves could submerge entire towns.

Edwards lamented that the impending storm meant suspension of community testing for COVID-19 at a crucial time — as elementary and secondary schools in Louisiana are opening and students are returning to college campuses. “We’re basically going to be blind for this week,” Edwards said, referring to the lack of testing.

The storm also forced evacuations from an area of the state where there has been a high rate of positive tests.

A National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, Louisiana — in the bullseye of Laura’s projected path — took to Facebook Live to deliver an urgent warning for people living south of Interstate 10 in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas.

“Your life will be in immediate and grave danger beginning this evening if you do not evacuate,” Donald Jones said.

Laura is expected to dump massive rainfall as it moves inland, causing widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. Flood watches were issued for much of Arkansas, and forecasters said heavy rainfall could arrive by Friday in parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Laura is so powerful that it’s expected to become a tropical storm again once it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, potentially menacing the Northeast.

Even before dawn Wednesday, officials in Austin said the city had run out of free hotel rooms to offer evacuees and had begun directing families fleeing the storm to a shelter nearly 200 miles farther north. In Texas’ Hardin County, which has more than 57,000 residents along the coast, officials warned that anyone who tried riding out the storm faced days or weeks without electricity.

Becky Clements, 56, evacuated from Lake Charles after hearing that it could suffer a direct hit, almost exactly 15 years after Hurricane Rita destroyed the city. 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 said. “Whole communities were washed away, never to exist again. … So knowing how devastating the storms are, there was no way we were going to stay for this.”

Clements, a church educator, said she fears for her office, which is in a trailer following recent construction.

“I very much anticipate that my office will be gone when I get back. It will be scattered throughout that field.”

The hurricane also threatens a center of the U.S. energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and an estimated 61% of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated. Consumers are unlikely to see big price hikes however, because the pandemic has decimated demand for fuel.

“If Laura moves further west toward Houston, there will be a much bigger gasoline supply problem,” Oil analyst Andrew Lipow said, since refineries usually take two to three weeks to resume full operations.

Laura closed in on the U.S. 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.

___

Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia, and Plaisance from Stephensville, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include Paul Weber in Austin, Texas; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge; Louisiana; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Julie Walker in New York, and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta, Georgia.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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