One of the most severe hurricanes to hit in the United States, Laura has been charged with six deaths as she passed through Louisiana and parts of Texas. Arial’s images showed entire leveled neighborhoods on parts of the coast, huge expanses of flood water, and many buildings with jagged roofs and destroyed windows.
But a sense of relief prevailed that Laura was not the annihilating threat that forecasters feared, even though a full assessment of the true extent of all the damage could take days. Four people were killed by fallen trees in Louisiana, including a 14-year-old girl and a 68-year-old man. A 24-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator inside his residence. Another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, authorities said.
The threat of tornadoes is expected to reshape Friday after a tornado ravaged a church and homes in northeast Arkansas. Trees were down and power was cut off where what was left of the once fearsome Category 4 hurricane swept through the state.
The storm crashed into the Louisiana Lowlands and struck Lake Charles, an industrial town and casino of 80,000 people. On Broad Street, many buildings had partially collapsed. Windows have been blown up, awnings torn off, and trees divided in an oddly distorted way. A floating casino broke off and struck a bridge, and small planes were thrown at each other at the airport. The tower of a television station tipped over.
A Confederate statue outside a courthouse that local authorities had voted to keep in place days earlier was toppled by Laura.
“Looks like 1,000 tornadoes have passed through here. It’s just destruction everywhere, ”said Brett Geymann, who weathered the storm with three relatives in Moss Bluff, near Lake Charles. He described a jet engine roar as Laura passed over her house around 2 a.m.
“There are houses that have totally disappeared,” he says.
As the extent of the damage at Lake Charles became evident, a huge plume of smoke visible for miles began to rise from a chemical plant. Police said the leak was at a facility operated by Biolab, which makes chemicals used in household cleaners and chlorine powder for swimming pools. Local residents were told to close their windows and doors, and the fire burned down overnight.
Laura weakened to a tropical depression late Thursday, but more tornadoes and up to 13cm of rain were expected in the Tennessee Valley area before the system closed over the mid-Atlantic states by Saturday.
“It is clear that we have not suffered and suffered the absolute and catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. “But we have suffered enormous damage.”
He called Laura the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana, meaning it even passed Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.
The hurricane’s maximum wind speed of 150 mph (241 km / h) places it among the most powerful systems on record in the United States.
It was unclear when the return trip would be completed for the more than 580,000 coastal residents who evacuated in the shadow of a coronavirus pandemic. Although not everyone fled, officials credited those who left with minimizing the loss of life.
A weaker than expected storm surge also helped save lives. Edwards said the ocean water has risen to 12 feet (4 meters) rather than the 20 feet (6 meters) expected.
Ending search and rescue efforts was a top priority, Edwards said, followed by efforts to find hotel or motel rooms for those who couldn’t stay at home. Officials in Texas and Louisiana have both sought to avoid traditional mass shelters for evacuees for fear of spreading Covid-19.
Laura was the seventh named storm to hit the United States this year, setting a new record for American landings at the end of August. Laura struck the United States after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.
Donald Trump was planning to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.
Climate change and the rapid warming of the world are widely considered to be a driving force behind the increasing number and violence of hurricanes hitting the Americas.