Hundreds of thousands were told to evacuate ahead of what the National Hurricane Center called an "unsurvivable storm surge" from Hurricane Laura, and early Thursday it made landfall as a category 4 storm. It was intensifying rapidly as it approached land and was nearing the highest level of category 5—winds were at 150mph, while category 5 starts at 157mph—but it was expected to weaken over land, CBS News reports. The NHC says it brought with it a "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding" as it landed near Cameron, Louisiana. At least 20 million people are in the path of Laura, which is expected to impact areas as far north and east as Arkansas and the Ohio and Tennessee valleys.
Wind gusts as high as 135mph were recorded in southwestern Louisiana early Thursday, the Weather Channel reports, and a tornado watch was issued for parts of Louisiana and southeastern Texas. A storm surge warning is in effect from Freeport, Texas, to southeast Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River, with experts saying the surge could be as high as 20 feet and reach as far as 40 miles inland. "There will be parts of Lake Charles underwater that no living human being has ever seen before," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. A hurricane warning is in effect from High Island, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and tropical storm warnings are in effect in southern Arkansas as well as other parts of Louisiana and Texas. CNN reports the region has not seen a storm this intense since the "Last Island Hurricane" of 1856, which also made landfall in Louisiana with winds of 150mph. (Read more hurricane stories.)