Coastal residents have become stranded in the US state of Louisiana as Hurricane Laura hit with ferocious wind, torrential rains and rising seawater.
Authorities had ordered mandatory evacuations for some 580,000 residents, but not everyone followed the guidance, leaving some stuck as the storm - deemed “unsurvivable” by experts - battered the coastline.
One sheriff in the state warned that those choosing to stay "must understand that rescue efforts cannot and will not begin until after storm and surge has passed and it is safe to do so".
The Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office issued the grim warning that those ignoring evacuation warnings should "write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it a ziplock bag in your pocket."
Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early on Thursday morning: “There are some people still in town and people are calling ... but there ain’t no way to get to them".
Mr Guillory said he hopes those stranded can be rescued later on Thursday but he fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could delay that process.
Officials said search and rescue missions would begin as soon as conditions allowed, along with damage assessments.
The National Hurricane Center said the hurricane hit at 1am local time on Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane but has since been downgraded to a Category 2.
Video and photos on social media showed torrents of rain flying sideways past street lights in Lake Charles, and streets covered with water closer to the coast.
Officials said the extent of destruction would likely remain unclear until daybreak.
The storm rapidly intensified on Wednesday, gaining nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours and continuing to draw energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters.
The National Hurricane Centre kept raising its estimate of Laura’s storm surge, from 10ft just a couple of days ago to twice that size - a height that forecasters said would be especially deadly.
University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said: “It looks like it’s in full beast mode, which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way,”
With more than 290,000 homes and businesses without power in the two states, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.
In the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began, people filled hotels and slept in cars overnight - with officials not wanting to open mass shelters and worsen the spread of coronavirus.
Becky Clements, 56, didn’t take any 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.
She said: "The devastation afterwards in our town and that whole corner of the state was just awful.
"Whole communities were washed away, never to exist again."
Laura hit the United States after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.
Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the country this year, setting a new record for US landfalls by the end of August.