Leaders on the US Gulf Coast have warned that Tropical Storm Laura could rapidly intensify into one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the region and urged residents to prepare before landfall in Texas or Louisiana expected in the next 48 hours.
Anticipating deadly winds, rains and storm surges, the governor of Louisiana told citizens Laura could rival 2005’s Hurricane Rita, one of the fiercest recorded in the Gulf.
Laura comes on the heels of Tropical Storm Marco, which weakened sooner than expected and made landfall on Monday in Louisiana. Forecasters predicted Marco would become a tropical depression in the evening.
The rare threat of two possible hurricanes in the Gulf at once prompted energy companies to shutter operations, taking nearly 10 per cent of US crude oil production offline.
The National Hurricane Center warned Laura could bring potentially deadly storm surges from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, in the next two days.
Louisiana Governor John Edwards implored people to take advantage of the sudden weakening of Marco to ready for Laura.
“This has the potential to be the strongest hurricane to hit since Hurricane Rita,” Edwards said, referring to the category five hurricane that hit in 2005.
Laura traced the southern coast of Cuba on Monday but the brunt of the storm was offshore, helping the Caribbean nation avoid serious damage after Laura killed at least 10 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Laura would likely enter the Gulf of Mexico overnight, the NHC said.
The storm was predicted to reach hurricane strength by Tuesday then strengthen further before hitting the US Gulf Coast by Wednesday night. By then, it could be a category two or three hurricane.
Despite Marco’s weakening, the storm still threatened to soak the Louisiana coast.
This year’s hurricane season has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing many people to weigh the risks of leaving their homes and potentially exposing themselves to the virus.