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'Unsurvivable': Massive storm bears down on US Gulf Coast

AUGUST 25 Lacey Buller Tyler Arnold and Mike Buller work on placing plywood over the windows of their business before the arrival of Hurricane Laura

Half a million residents have been told to leave parts of Texas and Louisiana.

"Our eastern cities including Winnie, Liberty and Livingston could still experience damaging winds...", according to the National Hurricane Center advisory. In Louisiana, there are at least 109,811 customers with no electricity and 19,270 in Texas.

And it would be equal to the strongest-recorded hurricane ever to come ashore in Louisiana - a massive 1856 storm that so devastated Last Island, a pleasure retreat for sugar barons, that it all but disappeared.

"Western North Carolina could experience heavy rain and strong wind gusts beginning Friday night", according to an NWS hazardous weather outlook bulletin early Thursday.

Satellite images revealed the enormous size of the hurricane as it made landfall at around 1:00am (0600 GMT), while television pictures showed heavy rain lashing the coastal city of Lake Charles, and powerful winds uprooting trees.

Hurricane Laura struck the coast of Louisiana as a category-4 storm at about 1.15am local time (6.15pm NZT).

Laura was also expected to spawn tornadoes on Wednesday night over Louisiana, far southeastern Texas and southwestern MS and drop from 127 to 254mm of rain over the region, the NHC said.

"I'm not anxious about the water getting in here from the storm, I'm anxious about the rain and then the pumps not working and that's what will cause the flooding", Robert Dunlap, a business owner, told AFP.

With Hurricane Laura closing in on the Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center says possible tornadoes are occurring.

"This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline".

New Orleans remains traumatized from Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm in 2005, flooding 80 percent of the city and killing more than 1,800 people. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles will topple.

Earlier, the president issued an emergency declaration for Arkansas in response to the storm, authorizing federal assistance and FEMA coordination of disaster relief.

Another evacuee in Lake Charles, Patricia Como, said other family members had stayed behind but she was "not going to take a chance". People staying behind will likely have to wait hours for first responders to reach them.

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

The weather agency indicated that Laura has reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 140 miles per hour and that the cyclone is moving toward the U.S. coastline at a pace of 16 miles per hour. The storm's impacts could be devastating to those states, but are forecast to be significantly less unsafe when Laura reaches SC and the Midlands.

Around 650,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana and Texas were without power early on Thursday, and local utilities in the storm's path warned outage numbers would climb as the storm marched inland. The system was on track to arrive as the most powerful hurricane to strike the far this year.