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The Associated Press

MIAMI — The National Hurricane Center says Laura has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane as it moves deeper inland over Louisiana.

That's no longer a major hurricane but it still has extremely dangerous maximum sustained winds of 110mph, nearly five hours after striking the coast and pushing what forecasters called an unsurvivable storm surge miles inland. 

Forecasters say it's centered about 45 miles north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph. 

Laura's eye hit a stretch of Louisiana near the Texas state line early Thursday as a Category 4. 

Authorities had ordered more than 580,000 coastal residents to evacuate, but not everyone did. Now they have to wait until conditions ease before attempting search and rescue missions and assessing the damage.

Warnings to tribal citizens

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana posted on Facebook Wednesday night that the tribe was doing its best "to prepare for high water and more, but most importantly, doing everything we can to be the helping hand that will no doubt be necessary."

Tribal Chairman David Sickey posted on Facebook: "Our hope is in God's hands. Our prayers are unending. Rest assured, our resolve will remain steadfast in both faith and in each other after this storm. The encouraging words of my father, Ernest Sickey, written in 1973 during endless hardships for our tribe apply to all of us now as they did then. He said, "We've worked long and hard for this. The struggle has made us stronger and our victory will open the way to justice and a better life."

He wrote "may these words help us to look ahead instead of behind .... Stay safe and strong. We are an Us. Many roles. One community."

The United Houma Nation created a portal for tribal citizens to report damages.

"We pray that there is little to no need to use the portal," the nation said on Facebook. "However, we want to be proactive for our tribal citizens and able to respond as quickly as possible."

Rescuers poised to move in as Hurricane Laura still howls  

Hurricane Laura pounded the Gulf Coast for hours with ferocious wind, torrential rains and rising seawater as it roared ashore over southwestern Louisiana near the Texas border early Thursday, threatening the lives of people who didn't evacuate. 

Authorities had ordered coastal residents to get out, but not everyone did in an area devastated by Rita in 2005.

Laura's howling winds battered a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground. Hours after landfall, the wind and rain were still blowing too hard to check for survivors. 

"There are some people still in town and people are calling ... but there ain't no way to get to them," Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early Thursday morning over the phone as he hunkered down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.

Guillory said he hopes stranded people can be rescued later Thursday but fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could get in the way. 

"We know anyone that stayed that close to the coast, we've got to pray for them, because looking at the storm surge, there would be little chance of survival," Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC's Good Morning America. 

With nearly 470,000 homes and businesses without power in the two states, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.

More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars since officials didn't want to open mass shelters and worsen the spread of COVID-19. 

But in Cameron Parish, where Laura came ashore, Nungesser said 50 to 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles. The result could be deadly, since some houses weren't raised high enough to withstand the massive storm surge. 

"It's a very sad situation," said Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness. "We did everything we could to encourage them to leave."

Becky Clements, 56, didn't take chances; she evacuated from Lake Charles after hearing that it could take a direct hit. With memories of the destruction almost 15 years ago by Hurricane Rita, she and her family found an Airbnb hundreds of miles inland.

"The devastation afterward in our town and that whole corner of the state was just awful," Clements recalled Wednesday. "Whole communities were washed away, never to exist again."

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Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor urged people in Laura's path to stay home, if that's still safe. "Don't go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk and you put first responders at risk," he told "CBS This Morning."

FEMA has plenty of resources staged to help survivors, Gaynor said. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards mobilized the National Guard to help, and state Department of Wildlife crews had boats prepared for water rescues. 

We shall persevere

"Louisiana Strong! We shall persevere." That's a tweet from the Louisiana State Police just before Laura blew ashore as a Category 4 hurricane.

Forecasters warned it would cause "complete destruction" of mobile homes, carve new cuts in the Gulf Coast shoreline and wash away entire buildings. The National Weather Service in Lake Charles warned that some communities will be "uninhabitable for weeks or months."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted just before landfall that "this is a time for all of us to be praying for the best, while we're prepared for the worst." 

Category 3 hurricane

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Laura has weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 120 mph (195 kph) a few hours after making landfall.

It's centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph (24 kph). Hurricane-force winds and damaging wind gusts are spreading well inland into parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana.

The hurricane center has updated its guidance on the ocean water pushed ashore, saying they expect unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes. 

Forecasters predict the highest surge, up to 20 feet, along a stretch of Louisiana coastline that includes Johnson Bayou and the towns of Holly Beach and Cameron.

Forecasters say this surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters won't fully recede for days. 

Social media reports

Videos on social media show heavy winds and rain battering a tall building in Lake Charles, Louisiana, blowing out windows and littering glass and debris into the air and onto the ground as Hurricane Laura moves over southwestern Louisiana.

The damage was observed in Lake Charles, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of where the storm made landfall in Cameron early Thursday.

Other videos from the area show road signs bending, trees shaking violently and a large recreational vehicle being blown over.

More than 290,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana, as near-constant lightning provided the only light for some. Officials say search and rescue missions will begin as soon as conditions allow, along with damage assessments.

People are calling for help

An official in a southwestern Louisiana parish says some people who did not evacuate are now requesting assistance.

Tony Guillory, president of Calcasieu Parish's police jury, was hunkering down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm early Thursday as phones were ringing.

"People are calling the building but there ain't no way to get to them," he said over the phone.

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

Storm surge reported

CAMERON PARISH, La. — At least 150 people refused to evacuate a coastal Louisiana parish that could be covered by ocean water as Hurricane Laura makes landfall, officials said.

Officers went door-to-door in Cameron Parish urging the roughly 7,000 residents to get out before Laura struck, and they all used social media and phone calls to warn people of the danger.

But Ashley Buller, assistant director of the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said officials knew of about 150 people who decided to stay put in structures ranging from seemingly safe elevated homes to recreational vehicles, which could easily be swept away by rushing storm surge.

"It's a very sad situation," Buller said in a telephone interview from Lake Charles, where parish officials relocated from an office closer to the coast in Cameron. "We did everything we could to encourage them to leave."

Forecasters said Gulf waters could rise 20 feet along the coast of the low-lying parish without adding the height of waves, meaning the entire parish could be inundated.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said: "They're thinking Cameron Parish is going to look like an extension of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days."