Texas, Louisiana brace for Hurricane Laura: over half a million residents ordered to evacuate

Laura became the fourth hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday morning and is expected to intensify over the Gulf of Mexico and become a major hurricane prior to striking the upper Texas or southwest Louisiana coasts late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Source: Reuters
Source: Reuters
As Hurricane Laura hurtled towards the US, more than half a million people have been ordered to evacuate the Texas and Louisiana coasts, in the largest evacuation in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laura became the fourth hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday morning and is expected to intensify over the Gulf of Mexico and become a major hurricane prior to striking the upper Texas or southwest Louisiana coasts late Wednesday or early Thursday.
More than 3,85,000 residents were ordered to evacute in Texas and another 2,00,000 in Louisiana.
The governors of Texas and Louisiana declared disasters in advance of the storms.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott preemptively declared a state disaster for 23 counties ahead of tropical storms Marco and Laura. The declaration puts resources and personnel on standby. Abbott also asked for a federal emergency declaration for those counties, which was approved.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told The Weather Channel he hopes his state''s residents don't let their guard down just because Marco was not as strong as expected.
"Laura has always been the greater threat to Louisiana," Edwards told Jim Cantore. "We don't want people to become complacent because we caught a break with Marco."
Edwards declared a state of emergency for Louisiana on Friday night and requested a federal emergency declaration on Saturday. President Donald Trump approved Edwards's request for help.
According to weather experts, life-threatening storm surge and destructive winds will batter the coast and a threat of flooding rain and strong winds will extend well inland.
Forecasters expect Laura to grow to a major Category 3 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting the US coastline late Wednesday or early Thursday. The National Hurricane Center warns of potentially devastating damage.
Officials stressed that now is when people should be preparing, and leaving if told to do so.
Houstonians were urged to stay off roads for people being evacuated from areas that are expected to be hit by Hurricane Laura.
Galveston, which sits on a barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast, issued a mandatory evacuation order Tuesday morning and urged residents to leave as soon as possible.
"The main point is that we're going to have a significant hurricane make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday,” National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Ed Rappaport said Tuesday.
Complicating evacuations is reduced capacity at emergency shelters because of the need for social distancing in the times of the coronavirus.
"Frankly there's not that many places for people to go to," Dick Gremillion, director of homeland security and emergency preparedness for Calcasieu Parish, told the local media.
"In our traditional shelters, we've lost two-thirds of capacity. It has been a difficult time rolling COVID into hurricane preparations."
City of Galveston Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown signed the evacuation order, instructing residents to begin leaving the island for safety after overnight models shifted Laura's track westward. Galveston residents should secure loose items on their property and leave the island with all family members and pets.
Tropical storm warnings extend into the rest of the Houston metro area and extend east into south-central and southeast Louisiana, including the city of Lafayette. This means tropical storm conditions are expected within the next 36 hours.
"Mandatory evacuations will be ongoing throughout the day and early Wednesday, so people have time to secure their properties, businesses, etc. and leave for safety. Residents are NOT required to be off the island by 12 p.m. City services will be suspended at 12 p.m. People should be getting their plans together this morning for an evacuation," Galveston city officials clarified in a statement.
Evacuees hoping to avoid a repeat of Hurricane Rita traffic nightmare. Hurricane Rita hit in 2005 not long after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. People fled the area and saw some of the worst traffic the region had ever seen.
It's estimated more than two million people evacuated from their homes at the time. Many were stuck in traffic nightmares for several hours without food, water and low on fuel.
Local officials are hoping to avoid such a situation with voluntary evacuations broken down by zip zones. They're asking residents to wait until their zones are called before leaving to avoid more traffic disasters.
Many school districts announced they would be closed for the rest of the week. Most businesses and other facilities will be closed from Wednesday to Friday.
Ahead of Hurricane Laura's arrival, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued voluntary evacuations effective immediately for people who live in Zones A and B in Harris County. The Harris County Toll Road Authority announced Tuesday morning it has waived fees. Fort Bend County soon followed suit.

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