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The latest on Laura: Hurricane nears Category 4 strength; thousands evacuate along Gulf Coast
alert special report AP

The latest on Laura: Hurricane nears Category 4 strength; thousands evacuate along Gulf Coast

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GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Hurricane Laura is forecast to rapidly power up into a “catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane, even stronger than previously expected, as it churns toward Texas and Louisiana, swirling wind and water over much of the Gulf of Mexico.

Satellite images show Laura has become “a formidable hurricane" in recent hours, threatening to smash homes and sink entire communities. It has undergone a remarkable intensification, “and there are no signs it will stop soon," the National Hurricane Center said early Wednesday.

“Some areas, when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,” said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist.

“We could see storm surge heights more than 15 feet in some areas,” Stewart said. “What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.”

Laura grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to reach Category 3 status, with maximum sustained winds around 115 mph (185 kph) on Wednesday morning. It was about 280 miles (450 kilometers) out from Lake Charles, Louisiana, moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).

Top winds of 130 mph (209 kmh) are now predicted before landfall, pushing water onto more than 450 miles (724 kilometers) of coast from Texas to Mississippi.

“Heed the advice of your local authorities. If they tell you to go, go! Your life depends on it today,” said Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator at the National Weather Service. “It’s a serious day and you need to listen to them.”

Hurricane warnings were issued from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and reached inland for 200 miles (322 kilometers). Storm surge warnings were in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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A closer look at evacuations, warnings

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Scenes from the Gulf Coast as Laura approaches

Tens of thousands are evacuating and boarding up windows as the storm closes in on the Gulf Coast:

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