Set to hit Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Thursday morning, Laura is expected to bring with it strong winds and heavy rain. Storm surges could reach 20 feet in areas from Johnson Bayou, Louisiana, to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, and other parts of the state and eastern Texas could see water heights surge to 15 feet.
“It’s really just unimaginable numbers and certainly not survivable in some locations so we really hope people are evacuating and doing everything they can to get out if they haven’t already,” Joel Cline, a tropical program coordinator for the National Weather Service, told Newsweek.
By now we’ve all seen how well the Trump administration handles disasters, particularly when they’re hurting people that don’t normally support the GOP. Whether Hurricane Laura will cause similar damage to New Orleans as Katrina did in 2005 remains to be seen, but I can’t help but worry that whatever damage is done there will be handled even worse than Bush handled Katrina. Just as thousands died needlessly in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath three years ago, I’m very much afraid that many will die in the aftermath of Laura, based on the predictions we’re seeing now.
I doubt anyone who lives in the region is unaware of what’s coming at this point, but it’s important that the rest of us pay attention, and do what we can to help.
Laura is headed towards a landfall expected Wednesday night or early Thursday morning in northeastern Texas or western Louisiana as a major category 4 hurricane, and is expected to cause “catastrophic” wind and storm surge damage, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Rain squalls from Laura’s outer spiral bands were already affecting the coasts of Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday morning, and they will increase in intensity throughout the day.
Laura rapidly intensified by an impressive 50 mph in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, with the winds rising from 75 mph to 125 mph and the pressure falling from 990 mb to 956 mb. This far exceeds the definition of rapid intensification, which is a 24 mb drop in 24 hours. Buoy 42395, located just east of Laura’s eye on Wednesday morning, reported sustained winds of up to 76 mph, wind gusts as high as 107 mph, and a wave height of 37 feet (11 meters).
At 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Laura was already generating a storm surge of 1 – 3 feet along much of the Texas and Louisiana coasts; the largest surges, between 2.5 – 3 feet, were at Shell Beach, Louisiana, located to the southeast of New Orleans, and Freshwater Canal Locks, on the south-central coast of Louisiana. Laura’s storm surge can be tracked using the Trabus Technologies Storm Surge Live Tracker or the NOAA Tides and Currents page for Laura.
There’s likely to be lingering damage from this, with standing floodwaters, stranded people, and a wide range of horrible chemical and biological contamination (from last year):
On a day like Wednesday, when the New Orleans area was pounded with as much as seven inches of rain in less than three hours, it may seem like the only way past floodwater is through it. However, experts warn that wading — and especially swimming — through a flood could expose people to a stew of toxic waste and chemicals.
The CDC provides this list of warnings and recommendations with regard to floodwater, which are unlikely to be helpful to anyone caught in the storm, but give a good breakdown of the kinds of problems we can expect to arise from this disaster, if it’s anywhere near as bad as seems likely:
Stay out of floodwater.
Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Floodwater can contain:
- Downed power lines
- Human and livestock waste
- Household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste (chemical, biological, and radiological)
- Coal ash waste that can contain carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury
- Other contaminants that can lead to illness
- Physical objects such as lumber, vehicles, and debris
- Wild or stray animals such as rodents and snakes
Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause:
- Wound infections
- Skin rash
- Gastrointestinal illness
- Leptospirosis (not common)
It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.
If you come in contact with floodwater:
- Wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
- Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
- Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.
If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.
As I’ve said before, we’re in an era of endless recovery. The longer we go without taking a proactive approach to preparing for climate change, the worse disasters like this are going to get, as the storms get stronger, the floods reach farther inland, and the people in at-risk zones are increasingly those without the financial resources to escape. Disasters like this are not just the result of the storm – they’re the result of policy decisions, and the choice to avoid taking the kind of action needed in the face of our warming climate.