Laura strengthens to hurricane as it barrels toward U.S. Gulf Coast; thousands ordered to evacuate

Laura strengthened to a hurricane Tuesday morning, reaching maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with even stronger gusts as it barreled toward the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the two states were ordered to evacuate, with the hurricane expected to intensify and reach category 3 strength Wednesday. Laura is forecast to make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday near the Texas-Louisiana border, although its projected path could shift.

The storm, which dumped heavy rain on Cuba, may also threaten Florida, the National Hurricane Center Center said.

Rain showers could reach the coast of Texas and Louisiana by Wednesday afternoon with strong winds arriving later in the day. The storm’s impact is forecast to be felt far away.

Several counties and cities along the coast of Texas issued mandatory evacuations beginning Tuesday morning, including the city of Galveston, Orange County and Jefferson County, which has a population of more than 250,000.

Texas A&M University at Galveston said in a tweet Monday that it was ordering an evacuation.

“Today is the day. The weather is still nice here in Galveston. This is the day for everybody to get their belongs together and, for the safety of themselves and their family, to go ahead and evacuate today. Do not wait,” Galveston Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown told The Weather Channel.

Seabrook Mayor Thom Kolupski issued a voluntary evacuation order for his Harris County city, but encouraged elderly residents and people with medical conditions to take precautions.

“This notice is very important to elderly residents and/or people with medical conditions. We encourage these residents to evacuate these portions of the city at your convenience, however, due to rain, storm surge and the probability of heavy traffic you are encouraged to do so sooner rather than later,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

The mayor of Grand Isle, a small town in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, issued a mandatory evacuation order on Sunday. Other parts of Jefferson Parish are under either voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders, The Weather Channel reported.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that residents should begin taking precautions, as Laura “is going to be a significant storm.”

NBC News.

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