Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate the Texas and Louisiana coasts as Laura strengthened into a hurricane.
More than 385,000 residents were told to flee the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur, and more were ordered to evacuate Louisiana, where forecasters said more than 11 feet of storm surge topped by waves could submerge entire towns.
Forecasters said ocean water could push onto land along a more than 450-mile-long stretch of coast from Texas to Mississippi, and hurricane warnings will be issued later as the storm nears.
The National Hurricane Centre projected that Laura will become a Category 3 hurricane before landfall, with winds of around 115mph, capable of devastating damage.
“The main point is that we’re going to have a significant hurricane make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday,” National Hurricane Centre deputy director Ed Rappaport said.
While cross winds ripped apart Marco, which still doused the region with heavy rain, there is little to keep Laura from turbocharging. Nearly all the computer simulations that forecasters rely on show rapid strengthening at some point in the next couple of days.
“The waters are warm enough everywhere there to support a major hurricane, Category 3 or even higher. The waters are very warm where the storm is now and will be for the entire path up until the Gulf Coast,” Mr Rappaport said.
Hurricane #Laura is expected to strengthen into a major hurricane before it reaches the northwest Gulf coast on Wednesday night. Hurricane and Storm Surge Warnings have been issued for portions of the Upper Texas and Louisiana coastlines. Latest at: https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/uQUe2Zxopx— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 25, 2020
Laura passed Cuba after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and 3 in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding. The deaths reportedly included a 10-year-old girl whose home was hit by a tree and a mother and young son crushed by a collapsing wall.
Forecasters turned their attention the Gulf Coast, where up to 11 feet of sea water – storm surge – could inundate the coastline from High Island in Texas to Morgan City, Louisiana, the hurricane centre said.
“We’re talking about something that’s on the order of 10 feet and that’s going to penetrate well inland,” Mr Rappaport said.
The silver lining for US coastal residents is that Marco weakened into a remnant just off Louisiana’s shore on Tuesday.