HURRICANE SEASON

Hurricane Laura update: which areas will be affected?

Hurricane Laura could make a direct hit on Houston this week and hundreds of thousands of people living on the Gulf Coast should evacuate immediately, officials in Texas warned.

0
Hurricane Laura update: which areas will be affected?
JOE RAEDLE AFP

Hurricane Laura is expected to strengthen rapidly into a category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Laura, currently a category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, packing maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph), is about 335 miles (540 km) southeast of Galveston, Texas, the Miami-based weather forecaster said.

Texas prepares for Laura 

Hurricane Laura could make a direct hit on Houston this week and hundreds of thousands of people living on the Gulf Coast should evacuate immediately, officials in Texas warned on Tuesday.

Crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been paralysed as companies batten down operations. Output cuts are nearing 90%, a level not seen since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Lina Hidalgo, the top executive for Harris County, which encompasses Houston, warned of deadly winds and a destructive storm surge after Laura makes landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday. She said that put millions of lives at risk as Laura moved westward and took aim at the fourth-biggest city in the United States.

A satellite view of lightning from Hurricane LauraA satellite view of lightning from Hurricane Laura, August 25, 2020, in this still image from video obtained via social media. NOAA via REUTERS

"This storm certainly can cause unprecedented devastation," Hidalgo said at a news conference. "We truly have to say: Prepare for the worst."

The hurricane was packing winds of 75 miles per hour (120 km per hour) as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico, qualifying it as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring hurricane intensity.

Laura was forecast to become a "major" hurricane of Category 3 or higher by Wednesday night as it approaches the U.S. coast, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The storm was located about 525 miles (825 km) southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Tuesday afternoon and moving to the west-northwest at 16 miles per hour (26 kilometers per hour), =the NHC said. The hurricane was expected to make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday along the Texas-Louisiana border, the NHC said.

Laura could possibly land as a devastating Category 4 when it hits, said meteorologist Chris Kerr at agriculture, energy and weather data provider DTN.

Plan for the Worst

More than 420,000 Texas residents were under mandatory evacuation orders on Tuesday in Jefferson, Orange and Jasper Counties and the island city of Galveston.

Additionally, Hidalgo County issued voluntary evacuations for a huge swath of the coastal region surrounding Houston.

Evacuation shelters are being readied in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin for people fleeing the coast.

"It's imperative that you make plans this morning to secure your homes and move you and your family to safety off island," Galveston's acting Mayor Craig Brown said in a statement.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state's National Guard was heading to coastal communities with high-water vehicles and rescue helicopters to prepare for Laura's impact. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Pete Gaynor said on Twitter that a team was already deployed to the region.

Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, about 80 miles (129 km)east of Houston, was closed and its 15,000 students urged to evacuate, the school said.

The combination of a storm surge from Laura along with a high tide on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast could result in water levels rising as high as 11 feet (3.4 meters), the NHC said. As much as a foot (0.3 meter) of rain could drop in isolated areas, causing widespread flooding.