By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News/AP) — ComEd announced Wednesday that it is sending 100 employees and contractors to Louisiana ahead of time to support power restoration efforts, in anticipation of outages caused by damage to the electric grid from Hurricane Laura.

The deployment came at the request of Entergy Louisiana. The crews were leaving from around the Chicago area on Wednesday.

ComEd said it was taking steps to ensure the safety of its staffers and contractors amid the coronavirus pandemic. There will be health screenings for all ComEd personnel, and crews are traveling in one person per vehicle with personal protective equipment including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.

Once they arrive, each crewmember will stay alone in a hotel room, and plans are under way to ensure social distancing while the crews are working.

CBS News reported Wednesday that Hurricane Laura has strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm as it barrels toward the Louisiana and Texas coasts. “Little time remains to protect life and property,” the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.

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The hurricane is expected to remain a Category 4 hurricane through landfall tonight and then rapidly weaken and is expected to be the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. this year. At least 20 million people are in the storm’s path and over half a million people have been ordered to evacuate.

The hurricane center warned of potentially catastrophic and life-threatening storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding Wednesday night along the northwest Gulf Coast.

Laura’s winds as of Wednesday afternoon were close to 140 mph and the storm is moving northwest from its location about 200 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and about 200 miles south-southeast of Port Arthur, Texas.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration and the American Red Cross sent tweets Wednesday urging people to evacuate if they’ve been told to do so.

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, National Guard members drove school buses around neighborhoods, offering to pick up families. And a National Weather Service meteorologist in the city, which in the bullseye of Laura’s projected path, took to Facebook Live to deliver an urgent warning for people living south of Interstate 10 in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas.

“Your life will be in immediate and grave danger beginning this evening if you do not evacuate,” Donald Jones said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned that families who do not get out of harm’s way could be cut off from help long after the storm makes landfall overnight.

 

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)