Heeding warnings, Gulf Coast residents flee coming hurricane

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LaFITTE, Louisiana (AP) — Thousands of Gulf Coast residents fled inland from an approaching storm deemed “unsurvivable” by forecasters, heeding warnings from leaders in two states, but leaving some without help as available space in hotels and shelters filled quickly.

Evacuees arrived as far as Ennis, Texas, a city south of Dallas that’s roughly 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the coast, as the approaching Hurricane Laura grew in power hours before its expected landfall. The local emergency management coordinator in Ennis said he hadn’t yet received hotel vouchers he expected from the state to distribute to families.

“We were expecting to have it, but things happened so fast and so quickly that we weren’t able to get ahead of the curve,” said the coordinator, Chad Wester.

In the south Louisiana community of Delcambre, a steady stream of customers stopped by Shawn’s Cajun Meats and Grocery to pick up last-minute supplies ahead of Laura.

“Getting some snacks. Definitely getting some beer. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest-selling product around here,” said Austin Domingues, 26.

Domingues said he and his family had been prepping for the last three days for Laura. At his father’s nearby sugar cane farm, “we’ve been moving equipment on the highest ground we have.”

While Domingues said his wife likely would evacuate to Lafayette, further north and east of Delcambre, he and other members of his family planned to stay put. He said he expected to stay at his father’s farm, where the house is 14 feet (4 meters) off the ground.

“I don’t know if it’s too smart, but we’re going to stay just in case we need to help people out,” he said.

But Lexie Creighton, who was rounding up shopping carts outside the grocery store, said she planned to head to Lafayette after ending her shift, rather than ride out Laura. Her home took on water during Hurricane Rita, which ravaged the Gulf Coast just days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Getting out of the surge, you know?” she said. “The water’s going to come up. It’s better safe than sorry.”

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, the National Guard was picking up residents in school buses and taking them to a local coliseum. Many of those evacuated were families with small children. The National Weather Service evacuated its office in Lake Charles, transferring its forecasting duties to the service’s office in Brownsville, Texas.

Leaders in both Texas and Louisiana urged residents to flee in the final hours before landfall made it too dangerous to travel.

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the city of Austin had run out of free hotel rooms, forcing officials to send evacuees further away from the coast.

Kidd said the convention center in Austin might be opened to temporarily house evacuees while more hotel rooms are set up for residents. He said hotel rooms are being reserved for evacuees in the nearby counties of Bell, Hays and Williamson.

“There are still plenty of hotel rooms available,” Kidd said.