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The Latest: Laura still a dangerous Category 2 hurricane

The Latest on Hurricane Laura:

MIAMI — The National Hurricane Center says Laura has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane as it moves deeper inland over Louisiana.

That’s no longer a major hurricane but it still has extremely dangerous maximum sustained winds of 110mph (175 kph), nearly five hours after striking the coast and pushing what forecasters called an unsurvivable storm surge miles inland.

Forecasters say it’s centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph (24 kph).

Laura’s eye hit a stretch of Louisiana near the Texas state line early Thursday as a Category 4.

Authorities had ordered more than 580,000 coastal residents to evacuate, but not everyone did. Now they have to wait until conditions ease before attempting search and rescue missions and assessing the damage.

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LAKE CHARLES, La. — “Louisiana Strong! We shall persevere.” That's a tweet from the Louisiana State Police just before Laura blew ashore as a Category 4 hurricane.

Forecasters warned it would cause “complete destruction” of mobile homes, carve new cuts in the Gulf Coast shoreline and wash away entire buildings. The National Weather Service in Lake Charles warned that some communities will be “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted just before landfall that “this is a time for all of us to be praying for the best, while we’re prepared for the worst.”

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LAKE CHARLES, La. — The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Laura has weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 120 mph (195 kph) a few hours after making landfall.

It's centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph (24 kph). Hurricane-force winds and damaging wind gusts are spreading well inland into parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana.

The hurricane center has updated its guidance on the ocean water pushed ashore, saying they expect 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.

Forecasters predict the highest surge, up to 20 feet, along a stretch of Louisiana coastline that includes Johnson Bayou and the towns of Holly Beach and Cameron.

Forecasters say this surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters won't fully recede for days.

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LAKE CHARLES, La. — Videos on social media show heavy winds and rain battering a tall building in Lake Charles, Louisiana, blowing out windows and littering glass and debris into the air and onto the ground as Hurricane Laura moves over southwestern Louisiana.

The damage was observed in Lake Charles, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of where the storm made landfall in Cameron early Thursday.

Other videos from the area show road signs bending, trees shaking violently and a large recreational vehicle being blown over.

More than 290,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana, as near-constant lightning provided the only light for some. Officials say search and rescue missions will begin as soon as conditions allow, along with damage assessments.

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LAKE CHARLES, La. — An official in a southwestern Louisiana parish says some people who did not evacuate are now requesting assistance.

Tony Guillory, president of Calcasieu Parish’s police jury, was hunkering down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm early Thursday as phones were ringing.

“People are calling the building but there ain’t no way to get to them,” he said over the phone.

Guillory said he hopes those stranded can be rescued later Thursday, but blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could complicate the process.

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CAMERON, La. — Forecasters say Hurricane Laura has made landfall in southwestern Louisiana as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center reports the storm made landfall at 1 a.m. CDT on Thursday near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the Texas border. It had maximum sustained winds of 150mph (240 kph), making it the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

Forecasters warned the strong winds could rip apart buildings, level trees and toss vehicles like toys.

Video and photos on social media showed torrents of rain flying sideways past street lights in Lake Charles, and streets covered with water closer to the coast. A sudden storm surge knocked over cameras meant to capture the hurricane’s effects.

Forecasters also issued a string of tornado warnings as the storm pushed on to land, but there were no immediate reports of damage. More than 100,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is closing Interstate 10 from around the Atchafalaya Bridge outside of Lafayette all the way into part of Texas, because several stretches within that area are expected to flood.

In a radio interview Wednesday night, Edwards talked of the “apocalyptic” language that meteorologists have used for the storm. “The language I’ve heard from the National Weather Service I’ve never heard before ... They’re sending the strongest possible message about how serious this storm is," he said.

He talked specifically about concerns in Cameron Parish, which could receive wind gusts up to 180 mph (290 kph) and storm surge up to 20 feet (6 meters.)

“When people built back after Rita, they routinely built back to 15 feet,” Edwards said. He noted those structures would be overwhelmed.

Edwards said search and rescue efforts will begin Thursday as soon as it’s safe enough for officials to go out into floodwaters.

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CAMERON PARISH, La. — At least 150 people refused to evacuate a coastal Louisiana parish that could be covered by ocean water as Hurricane Laura makes landfall, officials said.

Officers went door-to-door in Cameron Parish urging the roughly 7,000 residents to get out before Laura struck, and they all used social media and phone calls to warn people of the danger.

But Ashley Buller, assistant director of the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said officials knew of about 150 people who decided to stay put in structures ranging from seemingly safe elevated homes to recreational vehicles, which could easily be swept away by rushing storm surge.

“It’s a very sad situation,” Buller said in a telephone interview from Lake Charles, where parish officials relocated from an office closer to the coast in Cameron. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”

Forecasters said Gulf waters could rise 20 feet along the coast of the low-lying parish without adding the height of waves, meaning the entire parish could be inundated.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said: “They’re thinking Cameron Parish is going to look like an extension of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days.”

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NEW ORLEANS — A meteorologist in western Louisiana said there are increasing signs Hurricane Laura could reach Category 5 strength.

“There’s been a lot of question about whether this storm would make it to Category 5 strength before landfall -- I think that is becoming increasingly likely,” said meteorologist Donald Jones, of the National Weather Service’s regional office that covers parts of the Louisiana and Texas coastlines that are in the bullseye of Laura’s path.

“I think all evidence right now indicates that we’re probably going to be looking at a Category 5 storm," he said.

Jones noted that there’s also debate within the weather service about whether Laura would maintain Category 5 status all the way to landfall, even it reaches that strength in the next few hours.

He made the comments during a Wednesday night briefing at the weather service’s New Orleans office, where he evacuated to from the Lake Charles office because of the storm.

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