Latasha Myles and Howard Anderson are standing in their living room where they were sitting when the roof blew off around 2:30 a.m. when Hurricane Laura hit the area on August 27, 2020 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Hurricane Laura, which landed near Cameron, Louisiana as a Category 4 storm early Thursday, is expected to bring high winds, storm surges, and flash floods that could make an emergency response impossible for people who settled in their homes to have.
Local authorities have warned people of Texas and Louisiana not to evacuate as the storm damaged buildings and caused widespread power outages. However, they fear that not enough people have been evacuated or have not been able to leave, especially as states grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In the pandemic's largest evacuation in the US, more than 1.5 million people have been ordered to flee the coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana since Tuesday after officials warned of Laura's "insurmountable" storm surge.
"We know anyone who has stayed so close to the coast that we have to pray for them because there is little chance of survival in the face of the storm surge," said Billy Nungesser, governor of Louisiana, of ABC's Good Morning America.
Port Arthur, a town of about 50,000 on the Texas Gulf Coast, has been hit by multiple storms, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Tropical Storm Imelda last year. But Laura, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, is expected to devastate the region, making rescue efforts impossible during the storm.
"Don't dial 911. Nobody will answer," Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie told those who did not leave their homes. "Know that it's just you and God."
In the Vermilion community on the Louisiana coast, local officials warned residents who stayed at home that the emergency response would not occur until after the storm and prepare for the worst outcome.
"Those who choose to stay and face this very dangerous storm must understand that rescue efforts cannot and will not begin until the storm and surf are over and it is safe," wrote the sheriff's office. "Please evacuate and if you want to stay and we cannot reach you, write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put a zip-lock bag in your pocket."
"I expect the worst, but I pray for the best," said the office.
James Sonya investigates what's left of his uncle's barber shop after Hurricane Laura hit the area in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 27, 2020.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
As Laura travels through Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said the storm surge and flooding could last another day. The extent of the damage is not yet clear, but the center warned the rise could go over 15 feet and up to 40 miles inland in some areas.
Before the storm landed, people had to make difficult decisions about where to stay or where to leave as officials urged residents to get out immediately.
"We're just trying, I've been homeless for 2 years, boss. I'm just trying to get out of the position I'm in … that's all it takes," Jheryl Sterling told Bloomberg News when he was told went to Port Arthur.
Concerns about evacuation include the risk of contracting the coronavirus on local public transport or in potentially overcrowded emergency shelters. Others may not be able to afford gasoline or transit to escape to safety.
"They can't necessarily get a hotel room, or they can't afford the gasoline and the cost of driving hundreds of miles out of town or out of an evacuation zone," Brock Long, former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, told CNN .
Evacuation shelters have opened with social distancing measures to contain infection. In Louisiana, the state is moving people to hotels rather than shelters due to virus problems, and is adding more evacuation buses to the schedule to avoid overcrowding.