’We really dodged a bullet’ as Laura downgraded to Category 2

Cassandra Pollock and Julian Aguilar
Hundreds of Hurricane Laura evacuees wait in their cars as they line up for hotel vouchers at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

After battering the Gulf Coast at about midnight Thursday, Hurricane Laura has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm as it moves away from the Texas-Louisiana border.

About 70,000 Texans are out of power in the East Texas counties of Jefferson, Orange and Hardin, local media reported. The storm moved ashore in Cameron Parish, Louisiana — which borders Texas — around midnight Thursday after almost strengthening into a Category 5 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

But as the morning wore on, officials in Southeast Texas were sounding optimistic that their corner of the state had escaped the worst of the hurricane's impact.

"I'm very pleased to report the damage to Southeast Texas was minimal. We really dodged a bullet," state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican who represents part of Jefferson County and all of neighboring Orange County, tweeted Thursday morning. "Prayers for our friends in the Southwest Louisiana."

In Newton County, by the border with Louisiana, County Judge Kenneth Weeks said that Hurricane Laura knocked down trees, blocking roads and major highways. Some areas received minor flooding and power is out in most of the county as of Thursday morning. Crews are working to clear the roads.

“We got about what we expected and what we geared for,” Weeks said. “Our big push right now is to make sure that all of our citizens can get back to their properties safely and assess damage to their homes.”

But that optimism came at the same time Gov. Abbott warned Texans not to celebrate too much before officials have a chance to assess the storm’s full impact on the area.

“Good news, which is really premature, is that we have no reports of any deaths,” he told Good Morning America on Thursday morning. “The storm continues to sweep through Texas in an unprecedented fashion because it’s not just where the surge came in. [The storm] is going up north to Jasper and Center, Texas all the way up to Marshall, Texas so in northeast Texas a hurricane is going through there for, as far as I know, the first time ever.”

Earlier Abbott told NBC’s Today show that search and rescue efforts are currently underway and credited evacuation orders for saving lives.

“This is, unfortunately, not our first rodeo in dealing with something like this. So [search and rescue] get pre-staged, and we are ready to go out as soon as the storm hits… They are out looking for anybody who may need help right now.”

Laura's size and strength brought warnings from the hurricane center of "catastrophic" devastation from storm surge and wind damage on both sides of the Texas-Louisiana border.