(CN) — Hurricane Laura has strengthened into an “extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm as it moves closer to landfall, National Hurricane Center forecasters warned Wednesday afternoon.
The forecast said catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding would begin Wednesday evening along the Gulf Coast.
“This is a life-threatening situation. Persons located within [at-risk] areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions. Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials,” the bulletin states.
As of 2 p.m. Central, Laura was located about 200 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was moving northwest at 16 mph.
Winds had increased to 140 mph with hurricane force winds extending up for 70 miles and outward for 175 miles.
The forecast said storm surge and tropical storm-force winds would arrive within the warning areas well in advance of Laura’s center.
“All preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the next few hours,” it said.
The National Hurricane Center update went on to say that high tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters as they move inland from the shoreline.
“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,” the report said. “This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm.”
The sheriff’s office of Vermillion Parish, a coastal area in Louisiana’s Cajun country that is located roughly 150 miles each between New Orleans and Beaumont, Texas, issued a dire warning Wednesday asking residents to “please evacuate.”
“Those choosing to stay and face this very dangerous storm must understand that rescue efforts cannot and will not begin until after the storm surge has passed and it is safe to do so,” the warning posted on Facebook said. “Please evacuate, and if you choose to stay and we can’t get to you, write your name, address, Social Security number and next of kin and put it [in] a Ziploc bag in your pocket. Pray that it does not come to this.”
Much of the southern portion of Vermillion Parish has been washed away in recent decades by water erosion, particularly following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Meanwhile, officials in Grand Isle and Port Fourchon, Louisiana, warned Wednesday afternoon that rising water along the coast had already swamped portions of LA 1 and other roads outside the levee system and could potentially cut off Grand Isle and Louisiana’s main oil port for days.
Port Fourchon, which is the service hub for most of the offshore oil and gas production in the northern Gulf of Mexico, could be facing its longest closure ever, according to a report published Wednesday by Nola.com.
The port, on the south tip of Lafourche Parish, was evacuated Sunday for Tropical Storm Marco and may not reopen until later this week.
Forecasts from the National Hurricane Center warned of storm surge and tropical storm conditions as far east as Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Already Tuesday afternoon – as an aftereffect of Tropical Storm Marco and preview of Hurricane Laura – Lake Pontchartrain on the outskirts of New Orleans had risen several feet.
Home and business owners throughout the region are nailing plywood over their windows and many are complying with calls to evacuate, while others are hunkering down, saying they have nowhere else to go.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged East Texans to avoid fast-moving floodwater. The National Weather Service says less than 6 inches can knock one down and 2 feet will float a car, and 90% of all hurricane-caused deaths involve water.