Hurricane Laura strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane overnight, and forecasters and local officials are warning people in its path to evacuate.
The hurricane, still located about 300 miles from the Lousiana coast, is expected to bring “potentially catastrophic” storm surge, heavy winds, and flash flooding to the northwestern Gulf Coast on Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in an update at 9 a.m.
“Steps to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the next few hours,” the NHC said early Wednesday morning.
The storm is located some 280 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and 290 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, said the agency.
“On the forecast track, Laura should approach the Upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts this evening and move inland near those areas tonight or Thursday morning,” the hurricane center said.
“Laura is a dangerous Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, and is forecast to continue strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane later today. Rapid weakening is expected after Laura makes landfall.”
“Now that Laura’s eye is forming, there’s just not a lot of doubt that this will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane for eastern Texas and Louisiana,” National Hurricane Center Senior Hurricane Specialist Eric Blake wrote on Twitter. “It is sobering to watch… please be smart if you are in the path.”
On Tuesday, mandatory evacuations were issued by officials in Louisiana and Texas.
Chambers County, Texas, issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents who live in low-lying or flood-prone areas, manufactured homes, or trailer homes. The city of Galveston, Texas, also issued an evacuation order as well as the Bolivar Peninsula.
Hardin County, Texas, Judge Wayne McDaniel ordered a mandatory evacuation for the whole county starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Texas’s Jasper County, Jefferson County, Newton County, and Orange County, also issued evacuation orders on Tuesday.
In Louisiana, evacuation orders are in effect for Calcasieu Parish, Cameron Parish, Jefferson Parish, Lafourche Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and Terrebonne Parish.
About 500,000 people live under areas where the evacuation orders were implemented, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott waived Houston-area tolls on roads.
“As Hurricane Laura approaches Texas, this waiver will ensure that Texans are able to evacuate efficiently ahead of the storm,” Abbott said in a statement. “I urge Texans in the area to continue to take all necessary precautions as Hurricane Laura nears the coast and heed the guidance of local officials.”