Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana early on Thursday as a strong Category 4 storm, bringing maximum winds of 150 mph and dire warnings of extensive damage.
The National Hurricane Center described the hurricane as “extremely dangerous” as it moved across the state, warning of catastrophic storm surges, extreme winds and flash flooding across portions of low-lying Louisiana.
“Doppler radar images indicate that the eye of Hurricane Laura has made landfall at the coast near Cameron, Louisiana,” the agency said, noting the storm would likely move inland over southwest Louisiana and Arkansas later on Thursday evening.
There were already reports of massive storm surges in Louisiana early on Thursday morning:
More than half a million people in Texas and Louisiana had been urged to flee from their homes as Hurricane Laura hurtled toward the US with maximum sustained winds of 150mph, it’s expected to be the most powerful hurricane to hit the US year so far this year.
A storm surge warning is in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana, it was reported. Life-threatening surges of up to 20 feet could deluge some areas. Officials have pleaded with residents to evacuate.
“Heed the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today,” Joel Cline, tropical programme coordinator at the National Weather Service, told The Associated Press. “It’s a serious day, and you need to listen to them.”
Extreme winds are expected in some areas, and heavy rains could inundate communities far inland over the next few days.
Some parts of Louisiana are expecting record flooding.
The Calcasieu River, for example, which runs through the city of Lake Charles, is forecast to rise to 15.6 feet by Thursday morning. According to CNN, this would far outstrip the previous record of 13 feet, which was set in 1913.
Though the full effects of Laura can’t yet be known, Category 4 hurricanes are capable of causing extraordinary damage. As AP noted, hurricanes of that strength have been known to cause months-long power outages and render entire communities uninhabitable for weeks or even months.
Laura has killed at least 23 people to date — 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.