"Extremely dangerous" Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday near Cameron, Louisiana, bringing a "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding" to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm intensified rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane as it barreled toward the Louisiana and Texas coasts with ferocious 150 mph maximum sustained winds.
But they were following forecasters' expectations and rapidly diminishing after Laura hit land. At 7 a.m. EDT, the storm was packing 105 mph winds, making it a Category 2 hurricane. And it's likely to be a tropical storm before the day is out, the hurricane center said.
Laura was about 30 miles north-northwest of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and 50 miles northeast of Port Arthur, Texas, at 5 a.m. and moving north at 15 mph over southwestern Louisiana.
Laura is expected to continue across Louisiana through Wednesday afternoon, move over Arkansas Wednesday night, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
Laura was expected to be the. At least 20 million people were in its path and almost 600,000 were ordered to evacuate.
Lake Charles hit hard
Hurricane Laura's howling winds battered a tall building in Lake Charles, Louisiana, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground. Hours after landfall, the wind and rain were still blowing hard.
"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.
Officials said search missions and damage assessments would begin when conditions allow it.
With more than 290,000 homes and businesses without power in the Louisiana and Texas, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.
Weather Service evacuates Lake Charles office
Conditions after Hurricane Laura made landfall were so dangerous that the National Weather Service cleared out of its Lake Charles, Louisiana office and was conducting operations from its Houston facility, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
The center said Laura's eyewall was pushing inland across southwestern Louisiana, causing "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding" early Thursday.
Laura could bring "unsurvivable" storm surge
The National Hurricane Center is warning that the "combination of a dangerous storm surge" from Hurricane Laura and the tide "will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline."
The water could reach as high as 15-20 feet from Louisiana's Johnson Bayou to the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, including Calcasieu Lake, the center said.
It added that an "unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes. This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm."
Hurricane Laura likely to bring dangerous rainfall inland
National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham is warning that in addition to hurricane and tropical storm force winds, Hurricane Laura will also threaten inland states with heavy rainfall. The eye of the storm is expected to move through Louisiana and Arkansas on Thursday, bringing with it anywhere from 5-10 inches of rain.
Hurricane Laura only 75 miles from U.S. coast
Hurricane Laura is now only 75 miles from the U.S. coast, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is currently moving at about 15 miles per hour, and is expected to slam the northwest Gulf Coast in a few hours with "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding."
The center of the storm is expected to move over northwestern Louisiana on Thursday, across Arkansas on Thursday night, and over the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday.
Louisiana faces 45 mph winds as Hurricane Laura nears
Cypremort Point, Louisiana, is now seeing sustained wind speeds of 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its most recent report. Laura is now less than 100 miles from Lake Charles, Louisiana, with maximum sustained winds of up to 150 mph.
Hurricane Laura could submerge half the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana
The unprecedented storm heading toward the Gulf Coast will unleash a two-story tall storm surge on the coast that forecasters say will be "unsurvivable." It's a wall of water so high, it could submerge half of the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The state's National Guard has been activated and a 7 p.m. curfew was in place.
The wind damage from Hurricane Laura and torrential rains will also be devastating.
Residents are told to leave now or risk their lives. The storm surge in Louisiana is expected to be at least 20 feet high with flooding as far as 40 miles inland.
Latest watches and warnings for Hurricane Laura
The National Hurricane Center has issued the following warnings and watches as of Wednesday night:
Storm surge warning (danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the indicated locations)
- Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River
Hurricane warning (hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion)
- San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana
Tropical storm warning (tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area)
- Sargent, Texas, to San Luis Pass
- East of Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Mississippi River
Hurricane watch (hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area)
- East of Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to west of Morgan City, Louisiana
Possible tornadoes occurring in Laura's outer bands
The National Hurricane Center said in its 9 p.m. ET update that there are possible tornadoes occurring in Hurricane Laura's outer bands over southeastern Louisiana and extreme southwestern Mississippi.
Laura's maximum sustained winds remain at 150 mph, making it a strong Category 4 storm.
Hurricane Laura almost a Category 5 storm
The National Hurricane Center on Wednesday night said that Hurricane Laura's maximum sustained winds had increased to 150 mph, just 7 mph short of being classified as a Category 5 storm, according to its 8 p.m. ET advisory.
The hurricane center said the storm is moving north-northwest at 15 mph and is expected to reach the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts Wednesday night and move inland. Forecasters predict the center of Laura will move over northwestern Louisiana on Thursday and across Arkansas on Thursday night, then over the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday.
"Some additional strengthening is possible tonight before Laura reaches the northwest Gulf coast overnight," the hurricane center advisory read. "Rapid weakening is expected after Laura moves inland."
Disaster relief crews make final preparations in Louisiana
Disaster relief groups in Louisiana are preparing before the storm hits. Entergy, a utility company, has secured over 6,000 workers to respond to outages. The workers will be on standby to assess damage from fallen trees and other forms of vegetation, according to Phillip May, the company's president and CEO.
Fire officials are also preparing teams to help with search and rescue efforts. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said Hurricane Laura could be the "largest urban search and rescue event" in the state in terms of damage.
"When you hear these projected winds of 140 gusts, this Category 4, potentially Category 5, that's catastrophic damage to buildings."
Republican National Convention to go on amid hurricane threat
With President Trump largely focused on the Republican National Convention this week, he has shown a noticeable lack of public interest in preparations for the hurricane nearing the U.S. Gulf Coast. FEMA's storm operations center in Washington is up and running, but they've only briefed the president only once — on Tuesday. Paula Reid reports.
Arkansas declares state of emergency
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared an emergency ahead of Hurricane Laura and set aside $250,000 to prepare for the storm's impact. Hutchinson said Wednesday that the state will have search and rescue teams on standby.
Arkansas is hundreds of miles inland, but even as Laura moves away from the Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to hit the southwest part of the state with tropical storm-force winds. The storm could also drop up to 8 inches of rain near Arkansas' borders with Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
Hurricane Laura packs the strongest winds the region has ever seen – but that's not the biggest threat
Hurricane Laura is now forecast to be the strongest storm to ever make landfall along the western Louisiana and north Texas coast, with winds of 145 mph and storm surge of up to 20 feet. But what determines how much devastation a hurricane produces, and what hazards cause the most damage, varies from storm to storm.
Compare a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph and a storm like Laura, which is forecast to have winds near 150 mph at landfall. Although the 150 mph wind speed is double, the damage potential is not just double — it is an astounding 256 times greater. And that just takes into account the wind; it does not consider the impacts of water damage, which is usually even more of a worry.
While the increase in winds is partly responsible for greater damage, the rising waters of the storm surge tend to be much more damaging and deadly in most hurricanes.
Most often water is not only more damaging but also more deadly than wind in hurricanes. From 1963 to 2012, 75% of hurricane deaths were caused by storm surge and rain flooding. Most of that is due to storm surge.
Tropical storm-force winds hitting central Louisiana
Tropical storm-force winds are already hitting the central Louisiana coast, hours before Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall, according to the National Hurricane Center. Sustained winds of 39 mph were reported at Caillou Lake, Louisiana, and at Cypremort Point on Vermilion Bay, Louisiana, the center said.
Hurricane Laura has maximum sustained winds of about 145 miles per hour, making it a Category 4 storm.
Families rush to flee before Hurricane Laura strikes
Like thousands of others in Texas and Louisiana, families in Beaumont, Texas, are rushing to leave town before Hurricane Laura makes landfall.
Lloynisha Daniels, her husband, and her four children will board a bus to evacuate — but they say they have no idea where they'll end up.
"The way it's looking it don't look like it's something we could survive and I'd rather be safe than sorry," Daniels told CBS News.
Some evacuees are being housed in hotels due to coronavirus concerns. Shelters in Texas and Louisiana are filling up quickly, while doing everything they can to keep people safe from the storm and the virus.
"Everybody that comes in we're spraying hands, we're taking temperatures, we're keeping people doing social distancing and we're doing every precaution we can do because of the pandemic," a shelter coordinator said.
Hurricane Laura threatens nearly 600,000 homes worth $125 billion
Hurricane Laura threatens to destroy hundreds of thousands of homes along the Texas and Louisiana coasts, possibly inflicting billions of dollars' worth of damage on the at-risk areas' residences.
Nearly 600,000 single-family and multifamily homes, which would cost roughly $125 billion to rebuild if destroyed, are within the hurricane's projected reach, according to a report from CoreLogic, a provider of global property information and analysis.
The estimate reflects expected damage from the hurricane's storm surge — the abnormal rise of water above usual tide movements.
"We don't know exactly where the storm will make landfall, and storm surge from the eye can vary, so we identify all structures within the watch area. When we total up all the potential locations that could be impacted, clearly it's a huge number," said Dr. Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic.
To be sure, Hurricane Laura, no matter how powerful a storm it becomes, is not expected to destroy all 600,000 homes in its path. The estimate is a worst-case-scenario of sorts that takes into account the uncertainty of predicting hurricane movements and strengths.
"We don't want to mislead and suggest that all of these homes will be affected. Some of them will, others will not — and some will be to a lesser degree," Jeffery said.
National Guard members prepared for hurricane response
The National Guard told CBS News on Wednesday that 4,000 soldiers — 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard and 1,000 members of the Texas guard — have been tasked with responding to Hurricane Laura.
Louisiana's National Guard said it has 222 high water vehicles and 65 boats positioned "to provide search and rescue support," and has 10 National Guard engineer assessment teams and seven engineer work teams ready to respond. It also said it's prepared 921,000 liters of water and 528,000 meals ready to eat.
The Texas Guard said it has more than 20 "aviation assets" and more than 15 shelter teams, as well as 117 "high profile vehicles" to "support rescue efforts in high-risk areas."
"I'm not scared": Some Port Arthur, Texas, residents say they won't evacuate
Some residents in Port Arthur, Texas, told CBS affiliate KVUE that they don't plan to evacuate — despite repeated warnings that they should leave the area. Port Arthur, which is approximately 90 miles east of Houston, is located right on the Texas coast.
"I'm not scared," one man told the station. "I think on this one it's just going to be more of a wind event — but who knows."
Experts have repeatedly stressed that one of the most serious dangers the storm poses is "unsurvivable" storm surge.
"You've always gotta be nervous, because you never know what's going to happen with the hurricane," another man said. "The category keeps changing randomly, we really don't know what to expect."
Humane Society of North Texas helps evacuate pets from perils of hurricane
The Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT) and the SPCA of Texas are working to evacuate animals from cities that are in Hurricane Laura's path. The groups have rescued more than 90 pets from the Houston SPCA and Galveston Island Humane Society. The Human Society of Southeast Texas in Beaumont has also delivered 12 dogs to the HSNT.
The animal shelter hopes to place the rescued animals up for adoption and place them in North Texas as quickly as possible.
"The Humane Society of North Texas is always eager to help pets in need, especially when a devastating hurricane is barreling toward the Gulf Coast," said Cassie Davidson of HSNT. "The North Texas community has been amazing in their response to saving pets during COVID-19 and we know they will do the same with Hurricane Laura."
Water starts rising in Texas and Louisiana
Water levels have begun to rise in Texas and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said. "A National Ocean Service water level station at Sabine Pass, Texas, recently reported about 2.3 feet of inundation above ground level," according to the center.
"Catastrophic damage" is expected in the area later Wednesday night. Nearby Sabine Lake is predicted to be hit with "unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves" that could reach up to 15 feet and affect areas up to 30 miles inland.
Astronaut shares photos of Hurricane Laura from space
NASA astronaut and Navy SEAL Chris Cassidy, who is currently living aboard the International Space Station, tweeted stunning images of Hurricane Laura from space.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also tweeted an aerial image of the storm.
Louisiana extends Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening as testing centers close
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday that the state will extend the second phase of its reopening until September 11, according to CBS affiliate WAFB-TV. Edwards said he ordered the extension because the state government couldn't monitor Louisiana's progress against the virus when testing centers were closed in preparation for the hurricane.
Edwards also noted that residents would likely be fleeing from Lake Charles, which has the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the state, according to WAFB-TV.
The state's Phase 2 was originally set to expire this Friday.
Dallas County will provide COVID-19 testing for hurricane evacuees
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that the county will provide Hurricane Laura evacuees with COVID-19 testing, in addition to meals and shelter.
"We are also involved in helping hundreds of families from the coast get refuge, meals and services here in Dallas County by placing them in hotels and providing them with services in their time of need," Jenkins tweeted.
"The people fleeing Hurricane Laura are no more likely to have #COVID19 than members of the general population anywhere in Texas, and the services that we'll provide to them, including #COVID19 testing, will be done from our excess capacity," he added, "so no one in Dallas County will be denied a #COVID19 test or services due to the services being provided to our neighbors from the Texas coast."
Texas governor warns rescuers can't help Wednesday night
Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged residents on the coast of southeast Texas to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Laura and warned that rescue efforts during the storm will be all but impossible, CBS affiliate KHOU reports.
Abbott said residents should expect a lockdown from 7 p.m. local time Wednesday to 9 a.m. Thursday.
"If you do not get out of the way of this storm, there will be no ability for rescuers or aiders to get in and assist you in any way," Abbott said, adding that the state's rescue efforts would commence at 9 a.m.
The state has deployed approximately 400 buses, 38 aircrafts, 82 boats, 202 high-profile vehicles, 60 ambulance vehicles and over 75 para-transit vehicles, Abbott said, according to KHOU. Over 5,000 people have already gone to shelters.
"The conditions of this storm are unsurvivable, and I urge Southeast Texans to take advantage of these final few hours to evacuate, secure their property and take all precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe," Abbott said.
Tornado warnings issued in Louisiana
Multiple tornado warnings have been issued in some of Louisiana's river parishes ahead of Hurricane Laura, according to the National Weather Service. There are now warnings in dozens of locations, including Baton Rouge, Acadia and Pointee Coupe.
Unlike a tornado watch, which signifies that a tornado is possible, a tornado warning means that a tornado has already been spotted or indicated by weather radar.
"If you are located in the warning area, take cover now!" the Weather Service urged.
The National Hurricane Center said "a few" tornadoes are expected this afternoon and evening in Louisiana, far southeast Texas and southwestern Mississippi. More tornadoes are possible Thursday in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.
FEMA and Red Cross urge people to evacuate if asked
FEMA and the American Red Cross sent tweets Wednesday urging people to evacuate if they've been told to do so.
"If you are told to evacuate, leave immediately," FEMA tweeted. "Know where to go for safe shelter, consider staying with family & friends."
The American Red Cross shared a list of evacuation centers and shelters.
"It looks like it's in full beast mode"
Hurricane Laura is 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."
Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate. But with time running out, both Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards expressed concerns that not enough coastal residents were taking the dire predictions seriously.
In Lake Charles, Louisiana, National Guard members drove school buses around neighborhoods, offering to pick up families. And a National Weather Service meteorologist in the city, which 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.
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.
Laura becomes Category 4 and could strengthen further
The National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory that Hurricane Laura is now a Category 4 storm and some additional strengthening is possible Wednesday afternoon.
It continues to warn of "unsurvivable storm surge," extreme winds and flash flooding.
According to the center: "The water could reach the following heights above ground somewhere in the indicated areas if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide."
- Johnson Bayou LA to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge including Calcasieu Lake: 15-20 feet
- Sea Rim State Park TX to Johnson Bayou LA including Sabine Lake: 10-15 feet
- Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge to Intracoastal City LA: 10-15 feet
- Intracoastal City LA to Morgan City including Vermilion Bay: 8-12 feet
- Port Bolivar TX to Sea Rim State Park: 6-9 feet
- Morgan City LA to Mouth of the Mississippi River: 4-7 feet
- Freeport TX to Port Bolivar including Galveston Bay: 2-4 feet
- Mouth of the Mississippi River to Ocean Springs MS including Lake Borgne: 2-4 feet
- Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas: 2-4 feet
Alternative routes recommended for Louisiana evacuees
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) is recommending alternate routes for evacuees due to Hurricane Laura's expected impacts.
The agency recommended Wednesday that drivers use northbound routes like I-49, US 61, or I-55 to get to I-20 W to avoid severe weather that's expected on I-10 in the western part of the state due to Laura.
"Motorists may use 511 to determine the best northbound route to take," DOTD says.
"Before traveling, motorists are encouraged to check www.511la.org or dial 511 from their telephone for the latest on roadway conditions and incidents. Out-of-state travelers can access the system by calling 1-888-ROAD-511 (1-888-762-3511)."
Port Arthur, Texas, mayor imposes curfew
Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie has signed a curfew order that makes it unlawful for people to be in the city's public places from Wednesday at 8 p.m. until Thursday at 6 a.m., according to the local police department.
Port Arthur is one of the areas along Texas' Gulf Coast that is under a mandatory evacuation order as Laura approaches.
Grocery stores in Houston area closing early
H-E-B, the San Antonio-based supermarket chain, planned to close three of its stories — Baytown, Baytown Joe V's Smart Shop and Mont Belvieu — at noon on Wednesday, CBS Austin reports.
All other Houston-area H-E-B, Mi Tienda and Central Market stores will close at 6 p.m. tonight.
H-E-B fuel stations and pharmacies in the area planned to follow store hours, according to CBS Austin.
Austin center reopens as "rest stop" for evacuees after hotels fill up
A center in Austin that was turning evacuees away after it ran out of hotel vouchers is now serving as a rest stop where people can wait for more rooms to be opened up, CBS Austin reports.
Many Galveston residents who arrived at the Circuit of the Americas — a sports facility in Austin that was acting as an intake facility for evacuees — were assigned to stay in one of at least 15 hotels in the Austin area. But some were later being turned away, told instead to head to a center in Ennis, Texas, and to one in Mesquite, just east of Dallas, according to CBS Austin.
Austin-area shelters reached capacity around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the station. As of 10 a.m. local time, the center at the Circuit of the Americas reopened as a rest area.
People who don't want to wait at the rest stop were encouraged to call 211 for help finding the next-closest sheltering location.
A text messaging system has been set up to give evacuees important updates while they are staying in the Austin area. People can text the word "ATXShelter" to 888-777 to sign up for updates, or call 512-978-1510 for the same updates that would be received via text message, according to CBS Austin.
Trump urges people to listen to local officials
President Trump is urging people to listen to their local officials as Hurricane Laura approaches the Gulf Coast, noting the storm is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane.
"My Administration remains fully engaged with state & local emergency managers to continue preparing and assisting the great people Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas," he tweeted Wednesday. "Listen to local officials. We are with you!"
Louisiana National Guard prepares for landfall
More than 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been activated across the state ahead of Hurricane Laura.
The Guard tweeted Wednesday that members were helping residents move out of harms way.
Dozens of high-water vehicles and boats have been mobilized, and 15 aircraft were on standby as of Tuesday for possible search and rescue missions, the Guard said.
Laura is the latest extreme weather event boosted by climate change
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is far ahead of record pace, with this year seeing 14 storms being named much earlier than any other year on record.
Laura, one of those storms, is now a major hurricane. And it's the latest extreme weather event boosted by climate change. A recent study found that a run-of-the-mill hurricane now has a 30% greater chance of strengthening to a major hurricane — a Category 3, 4 or 5 — than it did in the 1970s because of warming waters due to human-caused climate change.
This year's record-setting hurricane season combined with a historic heat wave, sprawling wildfires in the West and the massivethat tore through the middle of the nation this summer resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's happening right now.
"This current stretch of natural catastrophe events in the United States are essentially a snapshot of what scientists and emergency managers have long feared," said meteorologist Steven Bowen, head of Catastrophe Insight at AON, an international risk mitigation firm.
To be sure, these events are not all related to each other, but the one thing they do have in common is that climate change makes each one more likely. The simple explanation is that there's more energy in the system and that energy is expended in the form of more extreme heat, fire, wind and rain.
Michael Mann, a professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, has for years sounded the alarm about the acceleration of human-caused climate change, but even he is somewhat surprised at the current pace.
"In many respects, the impacts are playing out faster and with greater severity than we predicted," he said.
Laura threatens a center of the energy industry
Hurricane Laura is threatening 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, including Valero and Total refineries in Port Arthur, and Citgo's plant in Lake Charles.
Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.
Consumers are unlikely to see big price hikes however, because thepandemic 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.
Port Arthur police: "Last bus leaves at noon"
Police in Port Arthur, Texas, said Wednesday the last bus for evacuees is leaving the area at noon.
"Chief Duriso is pleading for the citizens of Port Arthur to evacuate immediately," the Port Arthur Police Department said in a Facebook post. "If transportation is needed, you must be at the Bob Bower Civic Center by 10 AM, as the last bus leaves at 12 noon. If transportation to the civic center is needed, you can call Port Arthur Transit at 409-983-8767 (press 2). Chief Duriso believes that it is imperative that you evacuate for your own safety."
Port Arthur is among the areas along Texas' Gulf Coast that is under a mandatory evacuation order.
Residents in nearby Galveston were urged to evacuate the island. CBS Austin reports a curfew will be in effect there starting on Wednesday at 8 p.m. It will also be in place Thursday at the same time.
Hurricane center warns of "catastrophic damage" from "unsurvivable storm surge"
"Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes," the National Hurricane Center said late Wednesday morning.
"This storm surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline in southwestern Louisiana and far southeastern Texas."
The center said in its latest advisory "only a few hours remain to protect life and property."
"Laura continues to rapidly strengthen and it is expected to become an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane."
Satellite imagery shows lightning bursts as Laura churns
NOAA satellite imagery shows lightning bursts in Hurricane Laura as the storm churns in the Gulf of Mexico, nearing the U.S. coast.
Disaster declaration for Harris County, Texas
Harris County Judge Hidalgo signed a disaster declaration for the county, which is home to Houston, Texas.
"This declaration will allow the county to have the maximum flexibility needed to respond and recover from #Laura," her office tweeted Wednesday morning.
"If they tell you to go, go!"
Satellite images show Laura has become "a formidable hurricane" in recent hours, threatening to smash homes and sink entire communities. It has undergone a remarkable intensification, "and there are no signs it will stop soon," the National Hurricane Center said early Wednesday.
"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."
Laura grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to reach Category 3 status, with maximum sustained winds around 115 mph. Top winds of 130 mph are now predicted before landfall, pushing water onto more than 450 miles of coast from Texas to Mississippi.
"Some areas, when they wake up Thursday morning, they're not going to believe what happened," said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist.
"We could see storm surge heights more than 15 feet in some areas," Stewart said. "What doesn't get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland."
Tornadoes expected in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi
Louisiana, southeast Texas and southwestern Mississippi are expected to see a few tornadoes Wednesday evening, in addition to storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"The risk for a few tornadoes should continue into Thursday across Louisiana, Arkansas, and western Mississippi," it said Wednesday morning.
Austin center for evacuees turns people away
A reception center in Austin for people fleeing Hurricane Laura was turning people away Wednesday morning because they ran out of hotel vouchers, CBS Austin reports.
While schools are typically part of evacuation plans, hotels were considered a safer option for evacuees this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Galveston residents who arrived at the Circuit of the Americas – a sports facility in Austin that was acting as an intake facility for evacuees – were screened for COVID-19 and assigned to stay in one of at least 15 hotels in the Austin area.
But some have been turned away. Evacuees were instead being told to head to a center in Ennis, Texas, and to one in Mesquite, just east of Dallas, according to CBS Austin.
Four reception centers in total have been set up to help evacuees.
Flash flooding expected in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas
Widespread flash flooding is expected along small streams, urban areas and roadways in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas starting Wednesday afternoon into Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Laura is expected to drop as much as 15 inches of rain in parts of those states. Two to 4 inches of rainfall is also expected over the lower to middle Mississippi Valley from central Louisiana into western Tennessee and Kentucky, and into southeastern Missouri, the center said Wednesday morning.
"This rainfall will cause widespread flash and urban flooding, small streams to overflow their banks, and minor to isolated moderate river flooding," it said.
Louisiana governor: "You only have a few hours to prepare and evacuate"
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said early Wednesday that residents only have a few hours to prepare and evacuate ahead of Hurricane Laura.
"Wherever you are by noon is where you'll have to ride out the storm," he tweeted.
"This is bad. Very bad," says CBS News weather producer
CBS News weather producer David Parkinson says Hurricane Laura's sustained winds have gained 45 mph in just 24 hours.
"It's knocking on the door of a Category 3. I have no doubt we will be there shortly," Parkinson said early Wednesday morning.
"This is bad. Very bad. There's no better way to put this," he said. "The eye has still not yet cleared out fully, and we're at 110 mph. There is nothing, and I mean nothing stopping this storm from hitting Category 4 strength."
He said "our only saving grace" is that some wind shear at the coast will briefly weaken the storm before it makes landfall. "That's dubious for two reasons though: It might not do it, and decaying tropical systems are more dangerous than strengthening ones because their wind fields actually widens."
He said storm surge, which could reach 18 feet in spots if the storm maintains Category 4 strength, could be deadly. "This storm has the power to bring water well over 30 miles inland."
Wind speeds, he added, are expected to cause catastrophic damage to trees and poorly built buildings. and damage to even the best-made properties, especially at the coast.
NASA's Johnson Space Center to close ahead of Hurricane Laura
NASA announced Tuesday night that it will temporarily close the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, Texas, to all but essential personnel. The center will close on Wednesday, and won't reopen "until the threat of Hurricane Laura has passed."
NASA stressed that teams in northeast Texas and in Huntsville, Alabama, will support the space station and its crew, and that it expects "no impact on critical station operations or the safety of the crew."
Louisiana governor warns of "significant flooding"
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Laura is shaping up to look a lot like Hurricane Rita did 15 years ago when it ravaged southwest Louisiana.
"We're going to have significant flooding in places that don't normally see it," the governor said.
Fearing that people would not evacuate in time, Edwards said those in southwest Louisiana need to be where they intend to ride out Laura by noon Wednesday, when the state will start feeling the storm's effects.
Officials urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading COVID-19.
Meanwhile, officials in Texas said buses were stocked with protective equipment and disinfectant, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people apart.
Whitney Frazier, 29, of Beaumont spent Tuesday morning trying to get transportation to a high school where she could board a bus to leave the area.
"Especially with everything with COVID going on already on top of a mandatory evacuation, it's very stressful," Frazier told The Associated Press.
Laura strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico
Hurricane Laura is strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center's 8 p.m. ET update. The storm is approximately 435 miles from the Louisiana coastline, and is moving northwest at approximately 17 mph.
The National Hurricane Center is warning of storm surge, heavy rainfall, wind, tornadoes and surf swells in the southeastern U.S. Parts of Texas and Louisiana could see up to 13 feet of storm surge, and the storm is projected to produce 5-10 inches of rain.
Storm surge and hurricane warnings issued in Texas and Louisiana
The National Hurricane Center issued a storm surge warning for San Luis Pass in Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi. The area could see life-threatening rain and rising water moving inland from the coastline over the next 36 hours. Meanwhile, a hurricane warning is in effect for San Luis Pass to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, where the region could see tropical-storm-force winds that make preparations dangerous, NHC added.
The hurricane center also said a storm surge watch is in effect for Freeport, Texas, to San Luis Pass, where dangerous rains and flooding could occur in the next 48 hours. A tropical storm watch is also in effect for Sargent, Texas, to San Luis Pass and east of Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
More than half a million ordered to evacuate in Texas and Louisiana
In the low-lying neighborhoods around Beaumont, Texas, deputies are going door-to-door to deliver an urgent warning for people living in Hurricane Laura's path. Three years ago — to the day — Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the area and residents are on edge.
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens just got back into her own house after being flooded out during Tropical Storm Imelda last September.
"My story is a lot of people in our community's story. And so we understand how fast things can go really bad. And so that's why we're out doing what we do, asking people and to heed the warnings," Stephens told CBS News.
The Civic Center is now a staging area for residents who need help getting out. But even with mandatory evacuation orders in place, some residents are refusing to leave.
"If something were to happen to the roof or something, I'd want to be here to fix it while I could," resident Marilyn Sachitano told CBS News. "We've been fortunate so far. We've made it. It's just scary to leave your stuff behind."
More than half a million people in Texas and Louisiana are being ordered to evacuate. Space is limited and evacuations are more complicated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Remember just because a hurricane came does not mean COVID-19 has or is going to leave Texas," Governor Greg Abbott said.
Experts predict Hurricane Laura's wind could mimic what was seen during Hurricanes Ike and Rita. Officials are saying this will be a direct hit, telling people they should prepare for the worst.
Texas governor expands emergency order to 36 additional counties
Texas Governor Greg Abbott updated the public on the state's response to Hurricane Laura, which is currently forecast to make landfall as a major hurricane over Southeast Texas late Wednesday night. Abbott also extended his disaster declaration for 36 additional counties, including Dallas.
"We are anticipating high winds, especially in East Texas and a very fast-moving storm," said Abbott. "There will be a water surge of at least 10 feet where the storm comes ashore. People near the eye of the storm need to be aware — it could easily sweep you away, causing you to lose your life."
Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate the Texas and Louisiana coasts Tuesday as the storm churns in the Gulf of Mexico.
"If you are subject to one of these evacuation orders you need to be doing all you can to make sure that you take the action that needs to be taken to protect your life. Those that stay behind may be caught in a situation where rescue teams may be challenged in being able to rescue from a situation that can cause you to lose your life so please heed local warnings," said Abbott.
MLB postpones Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros game
The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels will not play on Wednesday as planned because of Hurricane Laura and the potential damage it could cause to Texas and the Gulf Coast. Rather, the game will be made up as part of a doubleheader in September.
The league had already tweaked and shortened this week's Angels-Astros series heading into the day by turning Tuesday's contest into a doubleheader. The alteration means that the clubs have only one game to make up at a later date, as opposed to a pair. That's important, seeing as how September's series in Anaheim will mark their final scheduled meeting of the season.