Hurricane Laura smashed into the southwestern Louisiana coast early Thursday, hammering the region with 150 mile per hour winds and a 'wall of water' that officials said could cause 'catastrophic' damage.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami downgraded Laura to a Category 3 storm early Thursday, and expects it to slow 'rapidly' as it heads northeast through the state towards the mid-Atlantic region, but continued to warn of an 'unsurvivable' storm surge that could "penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days".
"On the forecast track, Laura will move across southwestern Louisiana this morning, and then continue northward across the state through this afternoon," the NHC said. "The center of Laura is forecast to move over Arkansas tonight, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
"Maximum sustained winds are near 120 mph (195 km/h) with higher gusts. Laura is a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale," the NHC said. "Rapid weakening is forecast, and Laura is expected to become a tropical storm later today."
Mandatory evacuation orders in both Louisiana and neighboring Texas were issued for around 620,00 residents, including the oil production hub of Port Arthur, which was bracing for torrential rains and potential flooding that could keep drilling and refining activity offline for several days.
"The language I’ve heard from the National Weather Service I’ve never heard before," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards during a radio interview. "They’re sending the strongest possible message about how serious this storm is."
Global oil prices held steady at five-month highs in the wake of Laura's impact, but curiously weren't hugely impacted by both the shuttering drilling capacity, which remains almost entirely offline, nor the bigger-than-expected 4.7 million barrel fall in domestic crude stocks reported by the Energy Department yesterday.
WTI contracts for October delivery, the new U.S. benchmark, traded little-changed from their Tuesday close in New York at $43.88 per barrel in early European dealing while Brent contracts for October, the global benchmark, were seen 16 cents higher at $45.80 per barrel.