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Hurricane Laura Hits Louisiana,This Is The Strongest Storm The State Has Experienced Since 160 Years Ago

Hurricane Laura hit the Louisiana coastline early Thursday -- sweeping ashore with an intensity the region has not seen in over a century.

Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph, putting it in a tie with a hurricane from more than 160 years ago for the strongest storm to hit Louisiana. The "Last Island Hurricane" of 1856 also had winds of 150 mph when it made landfall in Louisiana.

Hours before Laura's landfall, water levels along the coast rose rapidly as forecasters warned of an "unsurvivable" storm surge of up to 20 feet and devastating winds. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards predicted parts of his state will be submerged.

"The surge is going to inland ... there will be parts of Lake Charles underwater that no living human being has ever seen before," he told WWL Radio. "We are marshaling all of our people and assets to go in ... and start a very robust search and rescue effort."

The storm made landfall nearly the same week as Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. Katrina was a Category 5 while it was over the Gulf of Mexico -- but was downgraded to a Category 3 by the time it made landfall.

Latest developments

Coronavirus complications: The storm is complicating evacuations in the midst of a pandemic. Due to safety concerns associated with the coronavirus outbreak, officials are opening congregate shelters only as a last resort. States and parishes were lining up noncongregate options, such as hotel rooms, for evacuees, said Mike Steele, a spokesman for the state's office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Extended storm surge: The storm surge for Laura could spread up to 30 miles inland in southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas -- reaching all the way to Interstate 10 potentially between Beaumont and Lake Charles.

Record storm: Laura is the seventh named storm to make landfall in the US so far this year, a record for the most to do so before the end of August. There have been four tropical storms and three hurricanes.

Hope and prayers: Some first responders in Louisiana's Natchitoches Parish stood outside the sheriff's office for a moment of prayers ahead of the hurricane Wednesday.

Tens of thousands at risk of flooding

Calcasieu Parish, where the city of Lake Charles is located, has about 100,000 residents who are at risk of flooding, parish spokesman Tom Hoefer told CNN.

The focus Thursday will be on saving lives and transporting people to shelters, he said. But the Vermilion Parish Sheriff's Office said evacuation is key because authorities are concerned about rescue efforts.

"Those choosing to stay and face this very dangerous storm must understand that rescue efforts cannot and will not begin until after storm and surge has passed and it is safe to do so.

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 a Ziploc bag in your pocket," the office said in a statement. "Praying that it does not come to this."

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