(Reuters) – Hurricane Laura landed early Thursday in southwestern Louisiana as one of the most powerful storms to hit the state, with forecasters warning it could shoot a massive water wall 400 miles inland from the ocean.
Laura landed just before 1 a.m. as a Category 4 storm that packed winds of 150 miles per hour in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
It quickly weakened to a Category 2 storm Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 1050 miles per hour as it moved north and battered southwestern Louisiana, a swampy region particularly prone to storm surges and floods. oil rigs and refineries to shut down production.
Laura's winds tore through Lake Charles, Louisiana all night, tore roofs off buildings and shattered glass windows, videos showed on Twitter.
The city of 78,000 saw winds of 850 km per hour and gusts of wind up to 1
"This is one of the strongest storms affecting that part of the coast," said David Roth, a forecaster at the National Weather Service. "We are worried about the storm surge that is going so far inland there because it is basically is the entire marshland north of Interstate 10. There is little to stop the water. "
Officials over the hard-hit area said it would take several hours before they could go out to begin search and rescue missions. Tossed trees blocking roads was expected to be the biggest immediate challenge for rescuers.
"Catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and floods continue in parts of Louisiana," the NHC said in an early Thursday bulletin.
The oil refinery city of Port Arthur was just west of where Laura landed The city of 54,000 was a ghost town late Wednesday, with only a couple of gas stations and a liquor store open for business.
"People need their vodka," said Janaka Balasooriya, a treasurer, who said he lived a few blocks and would ride out the storm at home.
Just hours before Laura hit the coast, Port Arthur resident Eric Daw hurried to fill his car at one of the few gas stations still open.
He said he had wanted to evacuate earlier but lacked money for petrol while waiting for a disability allowance. Mr. Daw was on his way to a shelter in San Antonio, a 4-1 / 2-hour drive, where instead of worrying about the storm, he had to fight COVID-19 and repeat the concerns of many others.
"They say we should all have a social distance now, he said." But how should I have a social distance in a shelter? "
" Wall of water "
Approximately 620,000 people were on mandatory evacuation missions in Louisiana and Texas.
The storm surge could penetrate inland from Sea Rim State Park, Texas to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and could raise the water level as high as 20 feet (6 meters) in parts by Cameron Parish, Louisiana, said the NHC.
"To think that it would be a wall of water over two stories high that comes on the beach is very difficult for most people to get pregnant, but that is what will happen, said National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott at a news conference on Tuesday. Most of Louisiana's Cameron Parish would be under water at some point, Schott added.
Laura was also able to play tornadoes on Thursday over Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi and was expected to drop. 6 more 12 inches of rain over the region, NHC said.