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Mass evacuations have been ordered ahead of the arrival of the storm which the National Weather Service (NWS) warned will bring “life-threatening” conditions. Flooding and winds of up to 100mph are predicted when Laura makes landfall in southern states as more than half a million residents of Texas and Louisiana have been told to flee their homes.
Officials in Texas have urged people to stay with family or hunker down in hotel rooms in a bid to reduce their contact with others, according to a report by the Associated Press.
It is feared the mass exodus could cause COVID-19 cases to surge.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said: “We are responding to Hurricane Laura while also responding to a pandemic.
“Just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean COVID-19 either has or is going to leave Texas.
“COVID-19 is going to be in Texas throughout the course of the hurricane.”
He said authorities are “fully aware” of the situation.
In its latest advisory, the NWS warned Hurricane Laura was “rapidly intensifying” and said it is expected to hit eastern Texas and Louisiana in the early hours of Thursday.
The weather service said: “As Laura moves across the country, heavy rainfall will occur from the Gulf Coast, to the Mississippi Valley, and east into the Ohio Valley.
“Flooding and flash flooding is likely.”
The evacuation clogged highways in Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday.
COVID-19 precautions have slowed public transportation for evacuees who needed it and complicated temporary housing arrangements.
Warnings for an “unsurvivable storm surge” and “catastrophic damage” led officials in each state to call for residents to flee inland.
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People who do not have a car and are forced to use public transport had their temperature taken before boarding buses.
Officials in both states assigned far-flung hotels to evacuees to avoid large groups at shelters.
In Galveston County, Texas, which ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas on Tuesday, buses brought residents inland, but capped the number on each at 15 to 20 people due to the pandemic, said county official Zach Davidson.
Ambulances were called for anyone who was diagnosed with coronavirus.
Mr Davidson said: “We have stressed to people, when you’re building your hurricane kit, put on a mask, hand sanitizer, gloves.”
One intake centre in Austin was overwhelmed with requests for housing overnight.
This led Texas state officials to direct those fleeing the storm to hotels in Dallas and elsewhere.
Veronica Carresco brought antiseptics with her on her evacuation journey.
She said: “We’re just being cautious. Masks, Lysol, hand sanitiser – we’re doing all of it.”
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