Note: This story was updated late Tuesday evening after a tropical storm warning was issued.

East Texas and parts of the Texas and Louisiana coastlines are busy preparing as Hurricane Laura makes its way toward landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday.

As the Category 1 hurricane moved into the warm waters of the gulf, the storm began to rapidly intensify and is expected to make landfall as a major, Category 3 hurricane, with winds of around 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“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,” National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Ed Rappaport said.

For East Texas, the storm means heavy rainfall and high winds as it is expected to impact Harrison County and the Shreveport area as a Category 1 hurricane, according to the Weather Channel.

Local impacts

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, the National Weather Service in Shreveport issued a tropical storm warning for Harrison County and portions of East Texas until further notice.

A Tropical Storm Warning means tropical storm-force winds are expected somewhere within this area within the next 36 hours. The peak wind forecast is 40-50 mph with gusts to 75 mph gusts. Window for these winds is early Thursday morning through Thursday afternoon.

A threat to life and property exists and residents are advised to plan for dangerous wind. Remaining efforts to protect property should be completed as soon as possible.

Potential impacts from wind are expected to be significant. Some damage to roofing and siding materials, along with damage to porches, awnings, carports, and sheds. A few buildings experiencing window, door, and garage door failures. Mobile homes damaged, especially if unanchored.

Unsecured lightweight objects become dangerous projectiles. Several large trees snapped or uprooted, but with greater numbers in places where trees are shallow rooted. Several fences and roadway signs blown over.

Some roads impassable from large debris, and more within urban or heavily wooded places. A few bridges, causeways, and access routes impassable.

Scattered power and communications outages, but more prevalent in areas with above ground lines.

Peak rainfall amounts are expected to be 3 to 6 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts.

Emergency plans should include the potential for major flooding from heavy rain. Evacuations and rescues are likely.

- PREPARE: Strongly consider protective actions, especially if you are in an area vulnerable to flooding.

- ACT: Heed any flood watches and warnings. Failure to take action will likely result in serious injury or loss of life.

Potential impact from rain are expected to be extensive. Major rainfall flooding may prompt many evacuations and rescues.

- Rivers and tributaries may rapidly overflow their banks in multiple places. Small streams, creeks, canals, arroyos, and ditches may become dangerous rivers. In mountain areas, destructive runoff may run quickly down valleys while increasing susceptibility to rockslides and mudslides. Flood control systems and barriers may become stressed.

- Flood waters can enter many structures within multiple communities, some structures becoming uninhabitable or washed away. Many places where flood waters may cover escape routes. Streets and parking lots become rivers of moving water with underpasses submerged. Driving conditions become dangerous. Many road and bridge closures with some weakened or washed out.

Turn around, don't drown. DO NOT DRIVE though high water.

Another part of local concern is anticipated power outages. SWEPCO is advising their customers to prepare for the storm now.

“If you are on a life support system or need uninterrupted electric service for health reasons, make alternate arrangements in preparation for potential power outages,” SWEPCO released via their Twitter account.

The NWS was also warning of potential flooding, saying “Rivers and tributaries may rapidly overflow their banks in multiple places. Small streams, creeks, canals, arroyos, and ditches may become dangerous rivers.”

The National Weather Service says to plan for dangerous winds and significant wind damage. Potential impacts include:

  • Some damage to roofing and siding materials, along with damage to porches, awnings, carports, and sheds. A few buildings experiencing window, door, and garage door failures. Mobile homes damaged, especially if unanchored. Unsecured lightweight objects become dangerous projectiles.
  • Several large trees snapped or uprooted, but with greater numbers in places where trees are shallow rooted. Several fences and roadway signs blown over.
  • Some roads impassable from large debris, and more within urban or heavily wooded places. A few bridges, causeways, and access routes impassable.
  • Scattered power and communications outages, but more prevalent in areas with above ground lines.

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott added 36 counties to his disaster declaration including the East Texas counties of Harrison, Cass, Gregg, Marion, Panola, Rusk, Upshur and Smith.

“A proclamation adding counties to a disaster proclamation issued on August 23, 2020, certifying that Hurricane Laura poses a threat of imminent disaster, including property damage and loss of life, due to widespread flooding, storm surge, and hurricane force winds,” the governor’s proclamation stated.

“Hurricane Laura is rapidly intensifying and poses a major threat to communities in Southeast Texas and along the coast,” said Governor Abbott. “Texans in the path of this storm should waste no time preparing for the impact of Hurricane Laura and take immediate action to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. I urge our Southeast and Coastal communities to heed the guidance of local officials, follow evacuation orders, and remain vigilant as we brace for the impact of Hurricane Laura. The State of Texas will continue to monitor this storm and provide the resources needed to keep Texans safe.”

As the city and counties move into seeing affects from the storm, updates will be provided through social media.

Travel concerns

With more than half a million people order to evacuate areas along the Texas and Louisiana coastline, local law enforcement agencies are encouraging East Texans to stay off the roads if possible to allow those evacuating an easy time traversing through.

More than 385,000 residents were told to flee the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur, and another 200,000 were ordered to leave low-lying Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana, where forecasters said as much as 13 feet of storm surge topped by waves could submerge whole communities.

“Please avoid the major thoroughfares through the county if possible,” the Panola County Sheriff’s office said. “If you do travel these heavy traffic areas, expect delays and please be patient. Pray for the safety of everyone impacted, including the first responders who must stay behind.”

TxDOT is also advising drivers to be alert and cautious while traveling on major highways, saying U.S. 69 and U.S. 59 were seeing evacuation traffic.

Coastal issues

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Laura is shaping up to look a lot like Hurricane Rita did 15 years ago when it ravaged southwest Louisiana.

“We’re going to have significant flooding in places that don’t normally see it,” he said.

Ocean water was expected to push onto land along more than 450 miles of coast from Texas to Mississippi. Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and storm surge warnings from the Port Arthur, Texas, flood protection system to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The evacuations could get even bigger if the storm’s track veers to the east or west, said Craig Fugate, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Fearing that people would not evacuate in time, Edwards said those in southwest Louisiana need to be where they intend to ride out Laura by noon Wednesday, when the state will start feeling the storm’s effects.

Officials urged people to stay with relatives or in hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Buses were stocked with protective equipment and disinfectant, and they would carry fewer passengers to keep people apart, Texas officials said.

Whitney Frazier, 29, of Beaumont spent Tuesday morning trying to get transportation to a high school where she could board a bus to leave the area.

“Especially with everything with COVID going on already on top of a mandatory evacuation, it’s very stressful,” Frazier said.

Shelters opened with cots set farther apart to curb coronavirus infections. People planning to enter shelters were told to bring just one bag of personal belongings each, and a mask to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“Hopefully it’s not that threatening to people, to lives, because people are hesitant to go anywhere due to COVID,” Robert Duffy said as he placed sandbags around his home in Morgan City, Louisiana. “Nobody wants to sleep on a gym floor with 200 other people. It’s kind of hard to do social distancing.”

Laura’s arrival comes just days before the Aug. 29 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which breached the levees in New Orleans, flattened much of the Mississippi coast and killed as many as 1,800 people in 2005. Less than a month later, Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana as a Category 3 storm.