Hurricane Laura pounded the Gulf Coast of the US with ferocious winds, torrential rain and rising seawater as it roared ashore in Louisiana as a life-threatening storm.
Videos on social media showed Laura’s winds battering a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground.
Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, described the scene early on Thursday morning over the phone as he hunkered down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.
“There are some people still in town and people are calling … but there is no way to get to them,” he said.
He said he hopes those stranded can be rescued later on Thursday, but he fears blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could delay that process.
Authorities had ordered coastal residents to evacuate ahead of the incoming storm, but not everyone did in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005.
With more than 290,000 homes and businesses without power in Louisiana and neighbouring Texas, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.
Here are the Key Messages for Thursday morning for Hurricane #Laura. Catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding continues in portions of Louisiana. More: https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB or your local weather forecast at https://t.co/SiZo8ohZMN pic.twitter.com/VSjWKiu45I— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 27, 2020
Officials said search and rescue missions would begin as soon as conditions allow, along with damage assessments.
The National Hurricane Centre said the storm, which intensified rapidly on Wednesday before ploughing into land with sustained winds of 150mph, came ashore at 1am local time as a Category 4 hurricane near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles east of the Texas border.
It later weakened to a Category 2 hurricane as it moved deeper inland over Louisiana, but forecasters warned it still has “extremely dangerous” maximum sustained winds of 110mph.
Forecasters expect Laura to move north through Louisiana and cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. After turning east and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, it could again become a tropical storm and threaten the north-east states.
Laura hit the US after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola – 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.
Laura is the seventh named storm to strike America this year, setting a new record for US landfalls by the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.