BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Southwest Louisiana residents to evacuate Wednesday, as Hurricane Laura threatens to bring 170 mile-an-hour winds and an “unsurvivable” storm surge as high as 20 feet.

The hurricane, poised to reach Category 4 status by landfall early Thursday, will be among the strongest to ever hit a Gulf Coast state familiar with natural disasters.

“In my five years as governor, I don’t think I’ve ever had a press conference where I’m trying to convey the sense of urgency I’m trying to convey right now,” Edwards said Wednesday morning. “You’re going to hear ranges of storm surge that you haven’t heard in Louisiana since Hurricane Audrey in 1957.”

The governor joined a team of state officials and meteorologists, many of them worried not enough residents of the Lake Charles area have heeded their warnings.

“There’s going to be places that are going to be unrecognizable,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Schott said. “You could drive by them today — then drive by them in a couple of days — and not realize you’re in the same spot.”

“With regard to evacuation, that window is closing,” state transportation chief Shawn Wilson said. “It’s closing rapidly.”

Wilson expects Interstate 10, which crosses south Louisiana, to be underwater in Calcasieu Parish.

State-run buses drove residents to hotels in other parts of the state Wednesday, though heavy winds will likely make those evacuations impossible by late Wednesday night.

Edwards suggested residents unwilling to evacuate should stay where they are until the hurricane passes, warning against leaving mid-storm.

“That would be the worst thing you can do,” he said.

Louisiana has fully activated its national guard for the first time in modern history, readying more than 3,000 troops for search-and-rescue missions. Their stock includes more than 200 high-water vehicles, 65 boats and nearly 100 aircraft.

Edwards maintained that few rescue efforts would happen before the storm’s eye passes, adding that those who stay in their homes do so at their own risk.

“I pray that the next time I speak to you all, we’re talking about how we were able to cope,” he said. “But we’re only going to be able to have that conversation based on what people do over the next several hours.”