Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast Thursday with maxium sustained winds of 150 mph, forcing the activation of thousands of National Guard troops to provide hurricane response support and military installations in its path to react.
A total of 5,400 Louisiana National Guard troops were activated, along with 222 high water vehicles and 65 boats for search and rescue missions across the state, the National Guard Bureau said Thursday. Twenty-seven Army aircraft are also poised to respond, and Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards has approved the activation of the entire Louisiana Air National Guard should they be needed.
On Thursday morning, the Louisiana National Guard shared photos of troops clearing roads in the aftermath of the storm.
Likewise, more than 1,000 Texas National Guard troops were activated and more than 20 aircraft including UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks, and C-130s are ready to assist.
The National Guard also said the 159th Fighter Wing in New Orleans and the 147th Attack Wing in Houston relocated aircraft to safeguard them from the storm.
“Moving these aircraft protects the aircraft from damage and will not affect readiness of the units,” the National Guard said Thursday.
Multiple military installations have been in the path of the storm and have issued instructions to personnel regarding how to respond. For example, the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk in Louisiana issued a restricted movement order that expires Thursday afternoon.
Fort Polk is located in Vernon Parish, which has encountered multiple flash flood warnings Thursday morning.
“Please remember, we are on a restricted movement order until 1400 this afternoon,” Fort Polk said in a Facebook post Thursday morning. “Stay off the roads to allow our first responders and public works maintenance crews to assist those in need. If you leave your residence, please note there continued weather advisories (wind, flash flood, hurricane warnings). There are downed power lines, trees and flooded road ways.”
Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana also advised those on base to stay at home as the storm passes over. The base said the strongest winds are expected Thursday afternoon, along with the increased likelihood of flash flooding.
“Team Barksdale, the safety of you and your families is our top priority,” Barksdale Air Force Base said in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Unless there is an immediate risk to your safety please remain in your home during the storm. Continue to monitor official channels for updates.”
Later on Thursday, Barksdale said response teams would be surveying damages.
Additionally, crews from Barksdale evacuated some of its B-52 bombers to other locations, Air Force Magazine reports, citing a 2nd Bomber Wing spokesperson. The 2nd Bomber Wing did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military Times.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Laura made landfall early Thursday morning over Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. As of 10 a.m. Central Daylight Time, the National Hurricane Center said that “dangerous storm surge” will result in elevated water levels in certain areas of Texas and Louisiana.
The storm, which was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall, is now a Category 1 storm and is projected to continue on a northward path toward Arkansas. The National Weather Service Eastern Region said that as of 11 a.m. Eastern Time, the storm is expected to drop to a tropical storm within the next few hours.
But those in Louisiana must still remain cautious.
“Now is not the time to go sightseeing,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Thursday morning. “The threat #Laura poses to Louisiana is far from over. Stay home, continue to heed warnings from local officials and monitor your local news to stay informed.”
According to Edwards, at least one person in the U.S. — a 14-year-old girl from Leesville, Louisiana — died due to the storm after a tree fell on her home.
Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.
It was the seventh named storm to strike the U.S. this year, setting a new record for U.S. landfalls by the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.