Houstonians urged to stay off roads for people evacuating from Hurricane Laura

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Ahead of Hurricane Laura's arrival, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued voluntary evacuations effective immediately for people who live in Zones A and B in Harris County.

This includes the communities of Seabrook, League City, Texas City, Santa Fe, La Marque, Dickinson and Hitchcock in Zone A. Zone B includes Clear Lake, Anahuac, Wallisville, Mont Belvieu, Baytown, La Porte, Friendswood, Alvin, Hilcrest, Liverpool, Danbury, Angleton, Brazoria, Lake Jackson, Clute and Richwood. The following zip codes are included: 77586, 77058, 77523, 77520, 77571, 77507, 77598, 77062, 77059.

RELATED: Galveston mandatory evacuations in effect now ahead of Laura

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For those not in those zones, you should prepare to shelter in place, Hidalgo said. Officials additionally advise anyone who doesn't need to evacuate to stay off the roads, in order to avoid congestion and traffic jams for those who must move inland.

Non-essential city employees will be sent home by 2 p.m. Wednesday. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged everyone to get off the road at 8 p.m., if not sooner.

As of 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall between Wednesday night and Thursday morning as a Category 4 storm.

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While the city of Galveston issued a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday 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.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority announced Tuesday morning it has waived fees immediately.

Hidalgo granted the order at 9:20 a.m., saying that fees will remain waived to accommodate activities associated to the response and recovery in the region, such as evacuations.

Tolls are also waived on Fort Bend Parkway, Westpark Toll Road and Grand Parkway in Fort Bend County as of 11:30 a.m., Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced.

On Tuesday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott directed TxDOT to waive all tolls along the agency's portion of SH-99/Grand Parkway starting at 7 p.m.

This means all tolls on Houston-area toll roads will be temporarily waived to help those evacuating.

"As Hurricane Laura approaches Texas, this waiver will ensure that Texans are able to evacuate efficiently ahead of the storm," said Abbott. "I urge Texans in the area to continue to take all necessary precautions as Hurricane Laura nears the coast and heed the guidance of local officials."

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.

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"We want to make sure that we provide easy access for people who may be traveling throughout areas," Hidalgo said.

"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," said Turner.

Local officials are urging residents to fill up their gas tanks now. As of Tuesday morning, 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. "Every storm is different, and we urge folks not to use any prior storm as a template for what or will happen. What we need to do is prepare for the worst."

Turner also suggests that you have supplies on standby and have food that won't 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 COVID-19. This is something Hidalgo says 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's Chief Sam Pena says 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," Pena said.

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