The Latest: Several refineries along Gulf Coast shut down

The Latest on Hurricane Laura (all times local):

Several refineries along the Gulf Coast shut down before Hurricane Laura arrived.

Oil analyst Andrew Lipow said Wednesday that refineries nationwide were running at only about 80% because the pandemic has reduced demand for fuel. That means other refineries can pick up slack from shutdowns in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, he said.

Lipow said a major remaining concern is that pumping stations for the Colonial Pipeline could be damaged by flooding, which could stop gasoline produced in Houston-area refineries from reaching the East Coast, although the pipeline could still send fuel from refineries in New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards has activated the entire Louisiana National Guard for Hurricane Laura.

That includes more than 3,000 guardsmen ready for high-water vehicle and boat evacuations, search and rescue operations, levee inspections, road clearing and parish emergency operations assistance.

The National Guard has staged more than 200 high-water vehicles and 65 boats in south Louisiana ahead of the approaching storm.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Hundreds of residents of 11 nursing homes in southwest Louisiana have been evacuated in advance of Hurricane Laura, according to the state health department.

Most of the facilities were in Calcasieu Parish, which is expected to get a direct strike from the hurricane.

Health department spokeswoman Aly Neel says a mix of buses and ambulances moved the residents to other facilities mainly in Louisiana, but also in Texas.

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BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Louisiana residents Wednesday afternoon were heeding evacuation warnings as bands of heavy rain and strong wind swept into the state’s south ahead of the approaching storm, providing hotels in inland Baton Rouge a much-needed revenue boost.

Traffic slowed to a crawl at times amid intermittent periods of wind-driven rain on an elevated section of a highway between Lafayette and Baton Rouge.

Hotels in Baton Rouge were filling up fast, said Meredith Conger of tourism agency Visit Baton Rouge. Some were first responders and others were individual evacuees possibly seeking the privacy of a hotel room rather than a shelter or relatives’ house, she said.

Conger acknowledged that the business brought in by evacuees was a lifeline for Baton Rouge hotels after the pandemic shut down tourism and business travel.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi could get heavy rain and tornadoes from Hurricane Laura as it pushes northward over parts of Texas and Louisiana, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Greg Michel said Wednesday.

He said Laura has been following a path similar to Hurricane Rita, which struck in 2005 and caused several tornadoes in Mississippi, including in the Jackson area.

Michel said Mississippi’s coastal Hancock County, which touches Louisiana, could get storm surge of 2 to 6 feet (0.6 to 1.8 meters), and flash flooding is possible in three other counties in southwestern Mississippi.

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PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Officials in Port Arthur, Texas announced Wednesday afternoon that the state had sent two C-130 transport planes to Jack Brooks Airport, located in between Port Arthur and Beaumont, as a “last chance” evacuation for area residents.

Port Arthur had ended evacuating residents by bus at noon on Wednesday.

“If you decide to stay, you are on your own,” said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie. “I will not put my people in harm’s way. If you stay, it is you and God.”

Each plane can carry only up to 40 people due to coronavirus distancing guidelines. The planes are not equipped to handle residents with medical needs.

The planes will take evacuees to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and will not make a return trip.

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WASHINGTON —More than 500,000 packaged meals and 800,000 liters of water are at two sites in Louisiana for use by storm victims if needed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The supplies have been in place at the Roseland Staging Area and Camp Beauregard since before Tropical Storm Marco, FEMA said Wednesday. Additional supplies are on standby in Texas.

The federal agency, which works with local authorities to coordinate disaster response and relief efforts, has also brought in federal response teams and four urban search and rescue teams to provide additional assistance.

The agency said in a blog post that it has spent the past several months preparing to confront natural disasters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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GALVESTON, Texas — Hurricane Laura strengthened Wednesday into “an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” The National Hurricane Center said.

Laura is expected to strike Wednesday night into Thursday morning along the Louisiana-Texas border. Forecasters warn of “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding” and 20 feet (6 meters) of storm surge.

Tropical storm winds Wednesday afternoon reached the coast of Louisiana where water levels started to rise. An observing site at Eugene Island measured sustained winds of 39 mph (63 kph) and a gust of 64 mph (104 kph).

Laura’s well-formed eye was 200 miles (320 kilometers) south southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana and Port Arthur, Texas, early Wednesday afternoon.

Laura is predicted to reach at least 145 mph (233 kph) winds, but may weaken ever so slightly before landfall. The National Weather Service says rainfall can reach 15 inches in parts of Louisiana and Texas.

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GALVESTON, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott implored residents who hadn’t evacuated ahead of the storm on Wednesday to do so.

Abbott said storm surge was going to be a big problem and was expected to rise 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) in the Jefferson County area.

Resources that have so far been deployed in the state ahead of the storm included: 400 buses, 38 aircraft, 82 boats, 202 high profile vehicles and 60 ambulances, the governor said.

More than 5,000 people who have evacuated have already been sheltered, many of them in hotels.

Earlier Wednesday, officials in Austin said the city had run out of free hotel rooms for evacuees and had started to send families fleeing the storm to a shelter nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) farther north.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday the state’s Department of Emergency Management is dispatching a 35-member search-and-rescue team to Louisiana to help respond to the incoming storm.

The team includes personnel from several fire and police stations across northeast Oklahoma, as well as vehicles, boats and other emergency equipment.

Earlier this week, a five-person support team deployed from Oklahoma to Louisiana to help with forward operations, including response coordination, evacuation and shelter planning, and search-and-rescue coordination, Stitt said.

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