BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Hurricane Laura, a high-end Category 4 hurricane, made landfall after midnight in Texas and Louisiana as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the latter.
Though it didn’t reach Category 5 status, it joins the ranks of some of the worst natural disasters the Gulf Coast has experienced, such as 1957’s Hurricane Audrey.
“In my five years as governor, I don’t think I’ve ever had a press conference where I’m trying to convey the sense of urgency I’m trying to convey right now,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday morning. “You’re going to hear ranges of storm surge that you haven’t heard in Louisiana since Hurricane Audrey in 1957.”
Audrey’s 12.4-foot storm surge arrived in Cameron Parrish, where most of the storm’s 416 reported casualties took place. Nearly half a century later in 2005, Hurricane Katrina smacked the Louisiana coast with winds of 125 miles per hour. It brought a 27-foot storm surge–the highest reported in U.S. history, leaving behind $100 billion in damage.
Just weeks after Katrina, Rita made landfall in Johnson Bayou, Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 115 miles per hour and a reported 15-foot storm surge. Seven total died as a direct result of Rita, including one in Louisiana. Almost no structures remained in the state’s Cameron Parrish.
Fifteen years later, the southwestern Louisiana coast is bracing for a history-making hit. As of the 8 p.m. CDT position update from the National Hurricane Center, Laura had 150 miles per hour maximum sustained winds, making it an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane. If Laura makes landfall at 150 miles per hour, the monster storm will tie with the “Last Island” hurricane of 1856 for strongest storm–in terms of wind speed–to hit the Louisiana coastline.
“There’s going to be places that are going to be unrecognizable,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Schott said. “You could drive by them today–then drive by them in a couple of days–and not realize you’re in the same spot.”
According to Schott, wind gusts could breach 170 miles per hour in southwestern Louisiana.
Over half a million residents in Texas and Louisiana are under mandatory evacuation orders. Gov. Edwards activated the entire Louisiana National Guard to assist with the hurricane response.