Hurricane Laura strikes the United States after days of dire warnings.
Hurricane Laura pounded the Louisiana and Texas coasts as it made landfall near Cameron, La., as a Category 4 storm early Thursday, delivering a barrage of 150-mile-per-hour winds and a wall of water that was predicted to reach as high as 20 feet.
Landfall came after officials in both states issued the gravest of warnings, sounding the alarm about a storm that, in many ways, could be one of the worst to hit the region in decades.
The National Hurricane Center called the expected storm surge “unsurvivable,” and said that it could push as far as 40 miles inland. Officials also said that low-lying areas facing the brunt of the storm, like Cameron Parish in Louisiana, would essentially be annexed by the Gulf of Mexico until floods receded.
“I’m asking people right now to pay attention to this storm, to get out of harm’s way,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana told residents during a briefing ahead of the storm’s arrival. “Understand, our state has not seen a storm surge like this in many, many decades. We haven’t seen wind speeds like we’re going to experience in a very, very long time.”
In Calcasieu Parish, La., winds have reached 93 miles per hour with gusts of 126 miles per hour, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The National Weather Service said heavy rain had hit Lake Charles, Jennings, Lafayette and New Iberia. People in Lake Charles posted Twitter videos of sheets of rain blowing across the streets and trees buckling over in the background.
Laura was among the strongest storms to ever hit the United States, according to data compiled by Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University who studies hurricanes.
Now that the storm has hit, residents who did not flee a vast stretch of the Gulf Coast spanning from west of Galveston, Texas, to near Lafayette, La., are hunkered down as the storm tears through the dark of night. Officials have said those people would be on their own, as the police and emergency workers would not be able to reach them until the storm had passed.
“Know that it’s just you and God,” Mayor Thurman Bartie of Port Arthur, Texas, warned residents who were staying behind.
In Vermillion Parish, southwest of Lafayette on the Louisiana coast, the sheriff’s office had a grim request for residents who did not leave: “If you choose to stay and we can’t get to you, write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it a ziplock bag in your pocket. Praying that it does not come to this!”
The storm was preceded by tough decisions about fleeing and an urgent push to get people out of harm’s way.
More than 500,000 residents in Louisiana and Texas were urged to flee their homes in recent days as Hurricane Laura roared toward the Gulf Coast. Laura intensified into a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday afternoon as it churned through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
As the first bands of the expansive hurricane approached Lake Charles, his hometown, John O’Donnell hit a nearly empty Interstate 10, heading east for Lafayette or Baton Rouge.
He felt uneasy.
“This just doesn’t feel right,” Mr. O’Donnell, 33, said. “It doesn’t feel right leaving my city like this.”
A frequent city volunteer, Mr. O’Donnell said he had spent the last two or three days urging his fellow Lake Charles residents to evacuate. Privately, he sent his dog off with his ex-wife. Publicly, he posted on social media and drove 25 or 30 people to sites where buses carted them to safer havens outside the city.
Among those Mr. O’Donnell found himself convincing were people too young to remember the impact of Hurricane Rita in 2005, as well as longtime residents who argued that if their homes didn’t flood during that storm, they could make it through this one.
As Mr. O’Donnell sped toward Lafayette on Wednesday afternoon under steely skies, he wondered if he had done enough.
“Those are the ones that haunt me because we didn’t get them all,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “And there’s a lot of people left back there.”
Still, his efforts were clear in one way: Mr. O’Donnell was alone on the drive, having urged his loved ones to flee before the storm.
“It’s me and a bottle of bourbon and a cowboy hat in the passenger seat,” he said. “The bourbon isn’t open, but it will be as soon as I stop.”
Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Chelsea Brasted, Mike Ives, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, John Schwartz and Will Wright