The leading edge of Hurricane Danny, packing gusts up to 92 mph near its center, washed onto the Louisiana coast with heavy thunderstorms early today, but 20,000 offshore oil workers and thousands of lowland residents already had been evacuated.

Danny became the season's third hurricane when its maximum sustained winds reached 75 mph just before 6 p.m. EDT Wednesday. National Hurricane Center forecasters said the storm took a slight shift to the north after dark, and the center of the storm would hit south of New Iberia around noon today.

The leading edge of the storm brought thunderstorms to Grand Isle about 10 p.m. Wednesday, said Walter Copes, with the National Weather Service in Slidell. Storm surge flooding of 5 to 8 feet above normal was expected near the point where the center of the hurricane makes landfall, the weather service said.

Danny's highest sustained winds remained at 75 mph.

Just before midnight, the storm's center was about 200 miles south-southwest of New Orleans, or near latitude 27.3 north, longitude 91.6 west, according to the National Hurricane Center at Coral Gables, Fla. It was moving north-northwest at 10 to 15 mph.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Gale warnings and a hurricane watch extended eastward from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Pensacola, Fla.

As the landfall was forecast, official evacuation orders were given for Cameron Parish (county), which was devastated in 1957 by Hurricane Audrey, which killed 526 people.