AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged people who had not yet evacuated from the path of Hurricane Laura to leave — as they only had “about five hours” to do so as of his noon press conference.
Abbott reiterated that the “hurricane is going to be quite severe very powerful winds with a strong impact.” Chief of the Texas Department of Emergency Management Nim Kidd echoed his warning of the “danger factor” of this storm, saying while rescuers are in place, from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. it will be difficult for them to provide support.
“If you do not get out of harms’ way, the reality is for almost a 24 hour time period there will be a limited ability for rescuers or aiders to assist you in any way,” Abbott said.
Hurricane Laura, now a Category 4 storm, was about 235 miles southeast from Galveston, the National Hurricane Center last reported at 10 a.m. It had maximum sustained winds at 125 mph and was moving toward the Texas/Louisiana border at about 16 mph, the center’s latest bulletin said.
The storm now has sustained winds of 140 mph.
More than 5,000 people have already evacuated and found shelter, Abbott said, and other areas of the state are prepared to take in many more.
Evacuees from Texas Gulf Coast cities have been flocking to Austin for refuge, so much that Austin’s hotel capacity was maxed out earlier Wednesday. That caused the evacuation intake center at the Circuit for the Americas to close briefly, but it reopened around 10 a.m. and is serving as a rest area for evacuees waiting for hotel space to open.
Abbott said the reason there wasn’t enough space in Austin is that while the state worked to reserve rooms at local hotels, people decided on their own to leave and went straight to hotels and booked spaces.
“The math behind this is that means there are more people out of harms way,” Abbott said.
Abbott said they’ll work to equip COTA until there is more room, and people can also go to hotels in Hays and Williamson Counties.
Timeline of the storm
Abbott said current forecasts project hurricane-force winds to arrive in Texas around 7 p.m., with landfall around 1 a.m.
“From 7 p.m. to 9 a.m., it will be a little bit of a lockdown period for the ability of rescuers to get in and provide support,” Abbott said, but added rescuers are prepared by 9 a.m. to begin those operations.
The storm surge, which Abbott noted has been “categorized repeatedly as an unsurvivable storm surge,” could push inland for about 30 miles. Abbott said to expect a 10 to 15 foot storm surge in the Jefferson County area.
Winds will occur outside the cone and will be very heavy — Abbott called them “the biggest threat” and said they could be felt as far north as Longview. People should also expect flash flooding, and the Sabine River is of particular concern.
On Sunday, Abbott declared a disaster in 23 counties and on Monday President Donald Trump granted a federal emergency declaration for the area. On Tuesday three more counties were added, and Wednesday saw another three: Camp, Ellis and Tarrant. Ellis and Tarrant are included because they’re being used as places for evacuees to shelter.
Abbott said more counties could be added to the declaration.
After the storm
Residents should expect power outages — and restoration of power “will be longer” because of those high winds, Kidd said. Abbott added anyone with a generator should keep it outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Texas has already prepared to recovery operations. It has already sent out 400 buses, 38 aircraft, 82 boats, 202 high profile vehicles and 60 ambulances with additional 75-plus paratransit vehicles to help move people. Once the storm passes, damage assessment teams will report on what they see, and volunteer organizations are prepared to head to the area to help those in the aftermath. Abbott also said there will be a website for people to request assistance and report damage.
Abbott said he planned to visit the area after the storm, but that when would depend on the situation on the ground.