Brian K. Sullivan | Bloomberg News – PREPARING: David Rosenbaum Jr., left, and Devlin Cudd load plywood into vehicles as people purchase supplies at the Stine hardware store before the possible arrival of Hurricane Laura on Wednesday, Aug. 26, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Hurricane Laura is expected to hit somewhere along the Gulf Coast late Wednesday and early Thursday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

Hurricane Laura is set to slam into the U.S. Gulf Coast early Thursday as a powerful Category 4 storm, unleashing “unsurvivable” storm surges, flash floods and destructive winds that could inflict as much as $25 billion in damage.

Laura is already a Category 3 major hurricane with maximum winds of 125 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 11 a.m. in New York. It’s forecast to peak at 145 miles per hour over the Gulf of Mexico, the NHC said. That would make it just shy of Category 5 strength, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with stronger winds than Hurricane Harvey had at landfall in 2017. The storm could cause $20 billion to $25 billion in damage and economic losses, Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, said on his blog.

Laura is just the latest storm to take shape in what’s already been an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season. With three months left to go in the season, Laura will be the seventh system to hit the U.S., a record for the time of year, and the first major hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast since Michael in 2018. Laura has prompted mandatory evacuations in coastal areas and is targeting the heart of America’s energy industry, shutting more than 80% of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and a third of the Gulf Coast’s refining capacity.

Disaster modeler: ‘Get out’

For anyone living in an area that floods or is in the direct path of Laura’s landfall, “there is no calculation to be made: Get out,” Watson said. “Whatever fears you might have about COVID are secondary – even those with health issues that might make riding out a weaker storm an option.”

Governors declare emergencies

The governors of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have all declared emergencies. Laura killed at least nine people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, The Associated Press reported.

Though strong hurricanes often lose power just before landfall, Laura’s forward speed might prevent that from happening, allowing it to come ashore as a Category 4 storm, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Maxar. The last Category 4 or 5 hurricane to hit the U.S. was Michael in 2018.

“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes,” Dan Brown, a forecaster at the hurricane center, wrote in an update.

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