More than half a million people were ordered to evacuate the Gulf Coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Laura churns in the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane could slam into land this week as a major storm with ferocious winds and deadly flooding.
More than 385,000 residents were told to flee the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur, and another 200,000 were ordered to leave low-lying Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana, where forecasters said as much as 13 feet of storm surge topped by waves could submerge whole communities.
"Our goal is a safe, sane, predictable and well-run evacuation," W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at a press conference Tuesday.
"Our goal is no loss of life," he said. "Our goal is evacuation, not rescue, and then a rapid cleanup and recovery."
The National Hurricane Center projected Laura will become a Category 3 hurricane before it makes landfall this week, with winds of around 115 mph that are capable of devastating damage.
"On the forecast track, the center of Laura will move across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico today," the hurricane center said Tuesday. "Laura is then forecast to move over the central and northwestern Gulf of Mexico tonight and Wednesday, approach the Upper Texas and Southwest Louisiana coasts on Wednesday night and move inland near those area on Thursday."
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said officials are anticipating the storm will be out of the state possibly as early as the end of Thursday. "That said, there will be a lot of devastation wreaked upon Texas as the storm sweeps through especially east Texas, as well as lingering challenges that will result," he said.
Abbott said only a few hours remain for people to take the actions needed to ensure their safety and the safety of their properties. He urged at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that "swift action" be taken over the next 12 hours.
In Galveston and Port Arthur, Texas, mandatory evacuation orders went into effect at 6 a.m. Tuesday. People planning on entering official shelters were told to bring just one bag of personal belongings each, and "have a mask" to reduce the spread of.
"If you decide to stay, you're staying on your own," Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said.
Officials in Houston, meanwhile, asked residents to prepare supplies in case they lose power for a few days or need to evacuate homes along the coast. Some in the area are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey three years ago.
CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reports that Laura is not another Harvey-like rain event. While there will be rain, forecasters are more concerned about wind and storm surge.
Forecasters said ocean water could push onto land along a more than 450-mile-long stretch of coast from Texas to Mississippi. Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana; and storm surge warnings from the Port Arthur, Texas, flood protection system to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
State emergencies were declared in Louisiana and Mississippi, and shelters opened with cots set farther apart, among other measures designed to curb infections.
"If evacuating: In addition to standard supplies like adequate meds and pet supplies, be sure to include items that help protect you and others from COVID-19 in your 'go kit,' such as hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, soap, disinfectant wipes and 2 masks for each person," the Louisiana Department of Health tweeted.
Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards said winds will reach speeds higher than 100 mph and affect North, South and Central Louisiana.
"These winds are forecasted to begin tomorrow morning so be prepared for the problems that high winds bring, such us property damage, loss of power and other issues. Get a gameplan and be ready," he tweeted.