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Hurricane Laura, which began the day rolling ashore as one of the strongest storms ever to hit Louisiana, plowed trough the state from south to north, gradually weakening to become a tropical storm but wreaking destruction all along its path and killing at least six people before the afternoon was through.
After slamming coastal communities in the early hours of Thursday, the storm roared into the city of Lake Charles, La., ripping apart buildings and causing a fire at a chemical plant, which sent acrid smoke billowing into the sky and prompted the state to order people living nearby to stay inside with their windows shut.
Laura then steamrolled northward, maintaining hurricane force well into the afternoon, knocking out power to at least 880,000 utility customers in the region and leaving tens of thousands of people without drinkable water.
Four of the deaths tied to the storm in Louisiana were caused by trees falling on homes, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards. One was a 14-year-old girl in Leesville, La., a small city about 100 miles inland; the others were a 68-year-old man near Iota, La., a 64-year-old woman in Allen Parish and a 51-year-old man in Jackson Parish, which is 200 miles from the coast.
In Calcasieu Parish, where Lake Charles is, a 24-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his house, and another male, whose age was not yet known, drowned when a boat he was in sank during the storm, according to a spokesperson for Louisiana’s health department.
By 4 p.m. Central time, the storm had passed into southern Arkansas, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was trudging north-northeast at 15 miles an hour with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles an hour that extended out 90 miles from the center in all directions. The storm was expected to diminish to a tropical depression overnight.Slide 1 of 111/11
Laura continued to pose the threat of heavy rains and flash flooding, The center said that up to 7 inches of rain could still fall in much of central and eastern Arkansas, and up to 5 inches in isolated areas of neighboring areas of Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri. A few tornadoes could also form, the center said.
While many along the Gulf were relieved to find the storm less destructive than they had feared, Laura did cause substantial damage. Roofs were peeled off houses, and the facades of brick buildings were ripped away. Billboards were punched out and knocked down, and trees and power lines littered the roads. In Lake Charles, a regional hub known for its petrochemical plants and crowded casinos, gusts had blown out dozens of windows in high-rise office buildings, including the 22-story Capital One tower, and had ripped the top off a sky bridge.
People on the ground in southwestern Louisiana described severe damage to buildings and vehicles, apparently more from the storm’s punishing winds than from its much-feared storm surge. In Lake Charles, a regional hub known for its petrochemical plants and crowded casinos, commercial buildings were peeled apart, exposing insulation and wood frames. Billboards were punched out and trees snapped in half.
“We did not have the worst case scenario develop — we should all be thankful for that,” Governor Edwards said at a news conference on Thursday. “But there are still thousands and thousands of families whose lives are not right side up today.”
Officials in both Louisiana and Texas had issued the gravest of warnings about the storm, which was among the strongest ever to hit the United States and tied for the strongest ever to hit Louisiana, according to data compiled by Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University who studies hurricanes. At the peak, more than 1.5 million people in the coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana were under some form of evacuation orders.
But the direst estimates of storm surge did not come to pass; the storm’s damage was chiefly done by its extremely powerful winds.
Search and rescue teams were working on Thursday to get evacuees into shelters such as motel and hotel rooms as quickly as possible, Governor Edwards said, adding, “Today is about saving lives, moving people out of their homes.”
He warned of the risks that came with fleeing a storm while Covid-19 was still a serious threat.
President Trump said he would visit Texas and Louisiana this weekend. “It was very big and it was very powerful, but it passed quickly,” he said of the storm.