Hurricane Laura struck the US state of Louisiana in the early hours of Thursday, slamming the Gulf of Mexico coast with winds of up to 150mph and bringing warnings of an “unsurvivable” storm surge.
The powerful category-four storm, which gained strength this week as it moved over the Gulf of Mexico, is potentially the most dangerous of its kind to hit Louisiana since the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It is expected to cause widespread damage across Louisiana and neighbouring Texas, and bring disruption to the US oil refining industry.
The National Hurricane Center warned of sustained winds of 130mph as the hurricane pushed inland, bringing “flash floods” and a “catastrophic” storm surge it has said could be as high as 20ft.
The NHC said a National Ocean Service tide station had measured a 9ft increase in water levels at Calcasieu Pass in Louisiana as the storm came ashore. A 400-mile wide hurricane warning has been put in place from the city of Freeport in Texas to the Mississippi river.
There have been a widespread evacuations of the Gulf of Mexico coastline in recent days and damage to infrastructure and property is expected to be severe.
The affected area is the heart of the US energy industry, with the hurricane cutting between Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, two of the most important oil refinery hubs in the country.
Refineries with a total capacity of 2.2m barrels per day of oil were closing plants or reducing volumes in advance of the storm, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. This is about a quarter of the refining capacity on the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
With the US exporting about 3m b/d of crude oil and 5m b/d of refined petroleum products this year, disruptions to Gulf infrastructure could affect global energy markets as well as US consumers.
US petrol prices rallied this week in anticipation of the shutdowns but have since stabilised. On Thursday morning, the benchmark wholesale RBOB gasoline contract was down 0.4 per cent at $1.356 a gallon.
“The waiting game now begins to discover the full extent of the damage,” said Stephen Brennock at oil brokerage PVM.
The NHC warned people in Hurricane Laura’s path of “life threatening conditions”. “The safest place to be during a major landfalling hurricane is in a reinforced interior room away from windows,” the NHC advised.
Mike Pence, the US vice-president, said on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had “mobilised resources and supplies for those in harm’s way”.
Additional reporting by Gregory Meyer in New York