Laura strengthens into 'extremely dangerous' Category 4

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Victoria Nelson with her children Autum Nelson, 2, Shawn Nelson, 7, and Asia Nelson, 6, line up to board a bus to evacuate Lake Charles, La., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, ahead of Hurricane Laura. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

GALVESTON, Texas – Laura strengthened Wednesday into a menacing Category 4 hurricane, raising fears of a 20-foot storm surge that forecasters said would be "unsurvivable” and capable of sinking entire communities. Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate and worried that not enough had fled.

The storm grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to a size the National Hurricane Center called “extremely dangerous.” Drawing energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, the system was on track to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday as the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

“It looks like it’s in full beast mode,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “Which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way.”

One major Louisiana highway already had standing water as Laura's outer bands moved ashore. Winds began picking up as shoppers rushed into a grocery store in low-lying Delcambre, filling carts with chips and beer. Austin Domingues, 26, said his wife would likely evacuate, but he planned to stay put at his father's farm, where the house is 14 feet off the ground.

“I don’t know if it’s too smart, but we’re going to stay just in case we need to help people out,” he said.

With time running out, both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed concerns that not enough coastal residents were taking the dire predictions seriously. In Lake Charles, National Guard members drove school buses around neighborhoods, offering to pick up families.

Abbott warned that families who do not get out of harm's way could be cut off from help long after the storm makes landfall overnight.

The National Hurricane Center kept raising its estimate of Laura's storm surge, from 10 feet just a couple of days ago to twice that size — a height that forecasters said would be especially deadly.