'The Island...Split in Half. Only One Terrified Cow Remained:' Laura Now Matches 1856 Last Island Hurricane

Hurricane Laura will be the strongest storm to hit Louisiana in over 160 years, with sustained winds estimated to reach 150 miles per hour (mph). This is on par with the Last Island hurricane of 1856, which left hundreds dead and led to the abandonment of the island.

Laura made landfall in Louisiana early Tuesday, with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warning people in the area to "take action now to protect your life."

In a statement released early Tuesday, the NHC said the eye of Laura will continue to move inland over southwestern Louisiana over the next several hours. It warned of a "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding."

At present, maximum sustained winds were recorded at 140mph. However, in an advisory the NHC said sustained winds in the center of the hurricane were near 150mph.

"NHC has just increased Hurricane #Laura's estimated winds to 150mph sustained," meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote on Twitter. "That equals the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in Louisiana, way back in 1856."

The Last Island Hurricane, or Great Storm of 1856, formed in the Gulf of Mexico in August that year. It became one of the deadliest tropical cyclones to ever hit Louisiana, leaving over 200 dead and an entire city destroyed. According to a report by the National Weather Service, the hurricane hit Louisiana between August 10 to 12. It struck Isle Dernieres, Last Island, which was a pleasure resort to the southwest of New Orleans.

"The highest points were under five feet of water," the report said. "The resort hotel was destroyed, along with the island's gambling establishments. Over 200 people perished, and the island was left void of vegetation and split in half. Only one terrified cow remained on the island after the catastrophe. Last Island is now only a haven for pelicans and other sea birds. The steamer Nautilus foundered during the storm. The lone survivor clung to a bale of cotton and washed ashore sometime later."

It said every house in Abbeville was razed to the ground and the Mermentau river was flooded, destroying crops in the vicinity. Orange trees were stripped of their fruit and rice fields were submerged, with almost all rice in the Plaquemines parish lost.

On Wednesday, the NHC said Hurricane Laura would weaken rapidly once it hits land, but that "destructive winds should spread well inland, more than 100 miles, along its path."

"Hurricane-force winds and widespread damaging wind gusts will spread well inland into portions of extreme eastern Texas and western Louisiana early Thursday," it said. Images from the International Space Station showed the size of the storm, with astronaut Chris Cassidy tweeting: "Stay safe everybody."

Views of Hurricane Laura taken from @Space_Station today. Stay safe everyone. pic.twitter.com/KwVvRLA15m

— Chris Cassidy (@Astro_SEAL) August 26, 2020

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told Fox News the storm surge from Laura would be a "huge threat to life... in fact, the National Weather Service took the unprecedented step of saying the storm surge is going to be unsurvivable."

He said in the "ground zero" of Cameron Parish, he expects the area to "look just like the rest of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days."

"I will tell you we are certain that at this time tomorrow we will be doing search-and-rescue for a large number of individuals, many of whom are going to need to require sheltering after that for some period of time before they can go home," he said.