Hurricane Laura has made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana as a category 4 storm, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Thursday.
The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour is located about 40 miles (70 km) east of Port Arthur, Texas and is expected to move inland across southwestern Louisiana on Thursday morning, the NHC said.
Winds gusted above hurricane force to 127 mph (204 kph) while Laura's northern eyewall moved onshore over Cameron Parish. Forecasters said even stronger winds were possible that could rip apart buildings, level trees and toss vehicles like toys.
Authorities had implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to evacuate, but not everyone did before howling winds began buffeting trees back and forth in an area that was devastated by Rita in 2005.
Video and photos on social media showed torrents of rain flying sideways past street lights in Lake Charles, and streets covered with water closer to the coast. A sudden storm surge knocked over cameras meant to capture the hurricane’s effects.
With hours of violent weather ahead, officials said the extent of destruction likely wouldn't be clear until daybreak, when search and rescue missions will begin.
Drawing energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico, the system arrived early Thursday during high tide as the most powerful hurricane to strike the US so far this year.
“It looks like it’s in full beast mode, which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said.