Editor's note: This story has been updated with information from the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority.
Tropical Storm Laura changed to a Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 75 miles per hour. It is expected to make landfall between Wednesday night, Aug. 26, and Thursday morning, Aug. 27, as a Category 3 storm.
While the city of Galveston issued a mandatory evacuation Aug. 25 for all residents, the city of Houston and Harris County leaders are urging residents to stay off the roads so people evacuating have access to the freeways.
Officials are expecting people to head north and away from coastal areas. I-10 is one of a few freeways that will implement contraflow as a last resort for evacuations.
"We want to make sure that we provide easy access for people who may be traveling throughout areas," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a press conference Aug. 24.
Additionally, the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management announced Aug. 25 that effective immediately Hidalgo had waived tolls on Harris County Toll Road Authority roadways to support evacuations, according to an Aug. 25 notice. Tolls will remain waived to accommodate any relevant activities associated to the region's response and recovery, the notice states.
The Montgomery County Toll Road Authority followed suit Aug. 25, waiving tolls on MCTRA's portion of Hwy. 249 from Spring Creek to Woodtrace Boulevard beginning Aug. 25. according to a release from the toll road authority. The tolls are waived until further notice to support evacuations leading up to Hurricane Laura. Additionally, tolls on the newly opened portion of Hwy. 249 from FM 1774 in Pinehurst to FM 1488 in Magnolia—where the toll road currently ends—will not be collected until later this fall, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
#Laura has been upgraded to a hurricane. There are currently NO evacuations in place for the City of Houston. Residents need to begin implementing hurricane plans NOW:
Register for @AlertHouston: https://t.co/s6g0ajTFff
View official updates: https://t.co/ESTZCAGcl4 https://t.co/kSMZvbxmS1
— Houston OEM (@HoustonOEM) August 25, 2020
"People are going to be evacuated, either from Port Arthur, from Chambers to Galveston County, to the extent that is called for, to allow them to kind of get through on Tuesday, going into Wednesday," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
— T.J. Parker (@TJParkerABC13) August 25, 2020
Local officials are urging residents to fill up their gas tanks now. As of Tuesday morning, Aug. 25, the average price for gas in Texas was $1.83.
"This is not Harvey; this is not Imelda; this is not Allison. This is Laura," Hidalgo said Aug. 24. "Every storm is different, and we urge folks not to use any prior storm as a template for what will happen. What we need to do is prepare for the worst."
Turner also suggested you have supplies on standby and have food that will not spoil in case of a power outage.
"Harvey was a rainy event. This one, for example, would be more of a windy day. We are certainly more prepared than we were three years ago," Turner said. "We learned a lot from Hurricane Harvey, but you cannot compare Harvey with what we are dealing in this particular case."
The additional concern is the spread of the coronavirus. This is something Hidalgo said they have thought about carefully. The Red Cross has also been preparing but is asking the community to help, too.
"You're asking folks to leave, stay with friends and family; that is additional exposure," Hidalgo said. "Overall, we are preparing for each contingency, and what we need the community's help with is to do the same. On the COVID-19 side, making sure you have a mask, you have hand sanitizer, you have the hygiene supplies that you need were there to be power outages."
In the event of flooding, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said they have 10 high-water vehicles and a water strike team ready to be deployed.
"We're ready to deploy and staff up as we need," Peña said.
From ABC 13