An “unsurvivable” monster storm that is stronger than 2005’s deadly Hurricane Katrina is smashing its way through the southern United States.
Injuries have been reported as flying glass was ripped from a skyscraper. One person simply said “I am terrified” as they posted footage from inside their unit block of the fierce winds howling outside. Around 400,000 properties are without power.
Hurricane Laura struck the coast of the state of Louisiana as a category-4 storm, tearing through the town of Cameron 210 km east of Houston, at about 1.15am local time (4.15pm AEST).
Winds of up to 240 km/h were measured as Laura pounded into the coast. By comparison, when Katrina hit New Orleans its wind speed was less than Laura at a little over 200 km/h.
It is reportedly the strongest storm in 164 years to hit Louisiana, a state that is no stranger to hurricanes.
A storm surge warning is in place for an almost 700 km stretch of coast from south of Houston to New Orleans – that’s not far short of the distance between Melbourne and Adelaide.
The US’ National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned some of the storm surges might be up to 6m in height and spread as far as 45 km/h inland.
Just before the storm hit, the country’s National Weather Service was blunt.
“TAKE COVER NOW!” it stated. “Take action now to protect your life!”
Around 150 people are said to have remained in the town of Cameron.
For those people who had remained in their homes, the NHC said the best they could do was “get under a table … use blankets of pillows to protect your head.”
INJURIES AS GLASS RIPPED FROM TOWERS
CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater said Cameron, which is only 1.5 meters above sea level, “was mostly completely underwater. There will not be a chance to get to that area until late in the morning”.
The storm then passed over Lake Charles and weakened to a category-2 storms. But it’s still packing wind of almost 180 km/h.
In Lake Charles, close to the coast, injuries have been reported. On Twitter, storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski said flying glass from skyscrapers had fallen on people below. Other footage showed the roof being ripped of a hotel in the city with people apparently in rooms below and glass shorn off office buildings.
CNN has reported that people who have not evacuated are being told to do a grim task.
Louisiana officials have said rescue efforts will not start until the storm surge has gone.
“Those choosing to stay and face this very dangerous storm must understand that rescue efforts cannot and will not begin until after storm and surge has passed and it is safe to do so,” the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Thursday.
“Please evacuate, and 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 Ziploc bag in your pocket. Praying that it does not come to this.”
Forecasters have said the storm is so strong it could remain a category 1 hurricane by the time it reaches Little Rock, Arkansas, some 400 km inland.
“The power of Hurricane Laura is unprecedented, and Texans must take action now to get out of harm’s way and protect themselves,”
“The conditions of this storm are unsurvivable, and I urge southeast Texans to take advantage of these final few hours to evacuate.
“Your property can be replaced,” Mr Abbott said. “Your life cannot be replaced.”
US President Donald Trump told residents in the path of the storm to “listen to local officials”.
“Hurricane Laura is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane,” Mr Trump tweeted. “My administration remains fully engaged with state and local emergency managers.”
NEW ORLEANS EMPTIED OF PEOPLE
Jimmy Ray was among those heeding evacuation orders in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
“We were going to try to ride it out at the house, but we found out that it was going to be too bad,” Mr Ray told AFP outside an evacuation facility.
Another evacuee in Lake Charles, Patricia Como, said her sister, her brother, cousins and other family members had stayed behind but she was “not going to take a chance”.
“I’m not going to play with the good lord,” Ms Como said.
In New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the historic French Quarter was empty of tourists, while sandbags were piled up in front of the doorways of colonial-style buildings and windows were boarded up with plywood.
The city remains traumatised from Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm, flooding 80 per cent of the city and killing more than 1800 people.
Laura earlier caused flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, killing at least 25 people.
In Cuba, it caused material damage but no deaths.
The Atlantic storm season, which runs through to November, could be one of the busiest ever this year, with the NHC predicting as many as 25 named storms. Laura is the 12th so far.
– with AFP.