By Alicia L. Pérez
Houston, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- Authorities in the US states of Louisiana and Texas ordered more than 500,000 people to evacuate ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Laura, which is expected to be packing winds of 230 km/h (145mph) when it makes landfall Wednesday night.
The storm is expected to strike the coast near the border between the two states and one of the towns that lies in Laura’s projected path, Lake Charles, Louisiana, is an important oil industry hub.
Southwestern Louisiana suffered extensive damage 15 years ago from Hurricane Rita and the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, warned residents that Laura is a far more dangerous storm.
“This storm is stronger than Hurricane Rita and it is approaching the coast gaining strength rather than losing it,” he said. Noting that the storm surge could exceed 6m (20ft), Edwards urged people in the at-risk area to get out quickly.
“By 4 or 5 o’clock (Wednesday), we think the weather is going to degrade to the point where we just can’t have organized evacuations,” the governor told The Weather Channel.
As of 18.00 GMT Wednesday, Laura was located 320km (200mi) south-southeast of Lake Charles and moving northwestward at 26 km/h (16mph), according to the latest bulletin from the US National Hurricane Center.
The storm, now a Category 4 on the ascending five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, has maximum sustained winds of 220km/h (140mph), and is expected to strengthen further before it reaches the coast.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes. This surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline,” the National Hurricane Center said.
The largest population center on the forecast track is Galveston, Texas, which is home to a major port that serves Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States.
Authorities in Galveston were quick to order an evacuation and imposed a night-time curfew with fines of up to $1,000 for violators.
By Tuesday morning, the municipal government had organized a fleet of 50 buses to evacuate people without their own means of transportation.
“With the uncertainties of this storm and its increasing strength, we need to take all necessary precautions to protect our residents,” Galveston Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown said in a statement.
The mayor of nearby Port Arthur, Texas, was emphatic in urging residents to get out.
“I can’t make you go, but if you don’t leave, what is understood is you are on your own,” Thurman Bartie said.
“I don’t want you to wait. Do it today,” the mayor said Tuesday. “If you want to be housed where they are taking our citizens, you have to go on the bus.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued disaster declarations for some 60 counties in the Lone Star State.
Pointing to the nearly 2,000 deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the governor pleaded with Texans to heed evacuation orders.
“This is a very dangerous storm, a stronger storm than what most have come through there,” Abbott said. “Do everything you can to get out of the way. Your property can be replaced. Your life cannot be replaced.” EFE