August 27, 2020 at 7:37 AM EDT
Hurricane Laura’s ferocious winds, storm surge could be ‘unsurvivable’ along Texas, Louisiana coast
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Hurricane Laura, a monster of a storm that picked up ferocious intensity as it traversed the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, continued to threaten a large swath of Texas and Louisiana with what authorities said could be “unsurvivable” flooding and catastrophic winds as it moved inland Thursday and began to weaken.
Laura strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane before it made landfall in Louisiana, its fearsome eyewall trained on the low-lying wetlands that span the border between Texas and Louisiana. Residents fled Lake Charles and Port Arthur, Tex., as the National Weather Service predicted high tide combined with a potentially historic storm surge could push dangerous waters as far as 40 miles inland in the early hours of Thursday.
The storm was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane Thursday morning but still had sustained winds higher than 100 mph and threatened flooding along its path northward.
These communities have seen hurricanes before, but perhaps nothing like Laura, which had sustained winds of more than 150 mph while out over the water, with gusts of up to 175 mph. That kind of power can uproot trees and toss them like twigs or splinter and flatten homes — as Hurricane Michael did when it similarly intensified rapidly over the gulf and slammed into Mexico Beach, Fla., two years ago, about 500 miles east of here.
Authorities in this coastal city of 78,000 were bracing for some of the worst storm surge flooding in recorded history, with the winds and shape of the coastline combining to drive a wall of water well beyond the shore. Expectations are that the Calcasieu River and the lakes that sit north of the coastline could crest at more than 15 feet above normal. That probably would put much of Lake Charles underwater, so city officials ordered a mandatory evacuation.
By Wednesday afternoon, most Lake Charles residents who planned to get out had done so. Buildings and homes were boarded up across the region, and the streets of the city’s small downtown were desolate.
By Ashley Cusick, Maria Sacchetti, Marisa Iati and Andrew Freedman