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Hurricane Laura's 17.2 feet high storm surge took everything from Louisiana resident

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 9/26/2020 Chaffin Mitchell

After Hurricane Laura unleashed catastrophic storm surge on the coast of Louisiana, residents who stayed put say they will never again stay during a hurricane.

"Something that you experience one time and don't do it again," explained Kim Eagleson, a Grand Lake Resident.

Never before has a Category 4 hurricane made landfall in southwestern Louisiana, making it the strongest storm on record by wind intensity for that part of the state, according to Colorado State University Meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. The monstrous storm packed maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and something most residents tend to underestimate - storm surge.

a large building with a grassy field © Provided by AccuWeather
A house destroyed by Hurricane Laura in Grand Chenier, Louisiana. (AccuWeather/Jonathan Petramala)

The storm surge rose to an astonishing 17.2 feet above ground level in Rutherford Beach, Louisiana, the National Weather Service in Lake Charles found.

To put that into perspective, that is almost as tall as an adult giraffe, or two times the official height to a basketball rim.

The level was acquired from the structures left standing in the background.

Accuweather National Reporter Jonathan Petramala revealed the damage left behind by the astounding storm surge and interviewed residents picking up the pieces after Laura's rampage.

"Laura took everything except just a little cement slab. Crumbled the fireplace, ain't nothing left. There's people in East Louisiana don't realize how bad we have it here," Grand Chenier Resident Chris Theriot told Petramala.

Petramala reported people living in this area may not have running water or electricity until Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned residents of the looming threat the surge posed ahead of the storm.

"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," the NHC warned in a tweet before the storm made landfall, adding that the surge could extend up to 40 miles inland from the coastline.

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The sun rising over Laura on Thursday morning as the center of the storm swirls over Louisiana. (NOAA/GOES-East)

AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski also forewarned Louisianans.

"A storm surge of that magnitude, combined with wave action, would be high enough to fully devastate the second story of structures located along the coast," Sosnowski said.

Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane, according to the NHC.

"Storm surge is the result of the water "piling" up as the storm center nears the coastline. It is predominantly caused by the force of the winds, cyclonically moving around the center of circulation, but is also contributed slightly due to falling pressure," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio said.

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"Storm surge is often the most dangerous and life-threatening occurrence caused by tropical cyclones, because people near the coast are often taken off guard with how quickly water can rise," Rossio said.

Storm surge strength and reach compares more to a river than a tide.

Rossio explained the surge can cause significant damage in its wake as well, leading to homes being either flooded or pulled into the sea as water recedes.

"It isn't certain if this is a record for this area given lack of water measurement observations in this area, but it was likely very similar to what was seen with Hurricane Rita when it made landfall 15 years ago," Rossio said.

According to Rossio, Rita's storm surge was estimated to be between 12 to 18 feet.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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