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Hurricane Laura’s ferocious winds produced more damage than its storm surge as it pummeled portions of Louisiana. The storm left six people dead in Louisiana, including at least four from falling trees.
Laura came ashore as a Category 4 storm early Thursday near the Texas state line, tearing off roofs while knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.
Laura, later downgraded to a tropical storm, was about 35 miles south of Little Rock, Arkansas, with sustained winds of 40 mph as of 7 p.m. CT Thursday. But it made landfall around 1 a.m. with sustained winds of 150 mph, devastating southern Louisiana communities for miles.
While there were widespread reports of wind damage, some communities were also beset by storm surge. US Coast Guard aerial video showed flooding in Cameron along the coast.
“There’s a lot of damage. People are going to need a lot of help around here,” Paul Heard, who survived the ordeal in Lake Charles, told CNN.
Heard left his house just as the storm was pulling part of the roof off around 1 a.m., taking shelter in his car, he said. As he watched from 25 feet away, he “could see my roof was heaving up and down several inches.”
Wind gusts of more than 120 mph raked that area intermittently for an hour overnight, CNN meteorologists say.
“It appears now we have more structural damage from the wind” than from storm surge, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Communities including Lake Charles, some 35 miles from the coast, are littered with debris. Across the city, roofs and walls are damaged, trees are snapped, twisted and broken; steel poles and lampposts are bent; street signs are torn from the ground.
Laura knocked out much of the water service in Lake Charles. “We’ve got some plants that are open, but it’s not enough to serve the entire city. The pressure is in the single digits,” said City Administrator John Cardone.
More than 843,000 customers in Texas and Louisiana were without power Thursday evening, according to PowerOutages.us.
“We have sustained a tremendous amount of damage,” Edwards said, though it wasn’t “the absolute catastrophic damage that we thought was likely.”
Arkansas braces for Laura
As Laura makes its way northeast, “flooding rainfall and tropical force winds” were spreading over parts of Arkansas, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday afternoon, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked residents to “pay attention to the weather.”
“The danger will really be coming in the next 24 hours,” Hutchinson told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Almost 55,000 customers in the state were without power.
Arkansas has predeployed search and rescue teams along with members of its National Guard, the governor said. “They are in south Arkansas and ready to go,” Hutchinson said at a press conference.
“We’re going to have flash flooding, we’re going to have strong winds, which we already are experiencing,” he said.
“So be safe, be careful and make sure, if you come to a barricade, make sure you turn around and don’t try to go around it, because there could be a flooded roadway that could cause death.”
Fire in Lake Charles
Lake Charles also is dealing with what the governor said was a chemical fire at a plant in the area, with large plumes of smoke rising in the sky early Thursday.
Police and fire personnel were at a BioLab facility, the Environmental Protection Agency said. Plant managers were trying to contain a chlorine leak, according to state police. Details about what started the fire weren’t available.
KIK Custom Products, which owns the facility, said it’s sending a team of specialists to the site, which had been evacuated before the storm hit, “after following shutdown protocols.”
“All employees are confirmed to be safe at this time,” the company said in a statement.
“We are doing everything we can to get that situation under control,” Edwards said.
The fire was smoldering later Thursday, CNN affiliate KPLC reported.
A shelter-in-place order is in place within a half mile of the site, according to the EPA.
Search and rescue
More than 1,500 search and rescue personnel, plus 400 boats and high-water vehicles were headed to the worst-hit places, Edwards said earlier.
In East Texas, rescue teams were out in the Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange areas, Gov. Greg Abbott said, noting major evacuations “no doubt saved lives.” Farther north, tornadoes were still a threat.
Orange was the worst hit in Texas, Abbott said at a news conference.
“You saw more rooftops ripped off, you saw more shingles missing, you saw more trees down, you saw big pieces of steel framing wrapped around some trees, you saw some roads that were still inundated, underwater, impassable at this particular time,” Abbott said.
The storm “could have been far worse” in Texas, though, Abbott said.
“When you consider the magnitude of the damage that could have occurred here, we did a dodge a bullet,” Abbott said at a news conference.
The deaths in Louisiana included four who died after trees fell: a 14-year-old girl in Vernon Parish; a 51-year-old man in Jackson Parish; a 60-year-old man in Acadia Parish; and a 64-year-old man in Allen Parish, authorities have said.
Two died in Calcasieu Parish: A 24-year-old man and another male who’s age wasn’t disclosed by the state health department.
President Donald Trump said he will go Texas and Louisiana and “maybe an additional stop” this weekend to survey the damage.
Laura tied with a hurricane from more than 160 years ago for the strongest storm to hit Louisiana. The 1856 hurricane also had winds of 150 mph when it made landfall, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. Hurricane Katrina in 2005, although it was a Category 5 while it was over the Gulf of Mexico, was downgraded to a Category 3 by the time it made landfall.
In photos: Hurricane Laura leaves trail of destruction
Crawling out from a barricade to find the roof is gone
Details about the scale of damage were emerging as the day wore on. Wide portions of Crystal Beach, Texas, near Galveston have been flooded. Water flowed over fields and roads, video from CNN affiliate KTRK showed.
Water lapped up against buildings in Sabine Pass, Texas, photos from Getty Images showed.
In Louisiana’s Lake Charles, Tolor White Jr. had dozed off while doing a crossword puzzle under a makeshift “barricade” made of a table and some mattresses. He awoke around 1:15 a.m. to a loud noise, he said.
Part of his roof had been torn off. Water dripped into one of his rooms, and wind had blown out some of his windows.
“I slept through most of it,” he said.
Brandon Clement, a storm chaser, was in a Lake Charles parking lot when he saw a RV topple over.
“You could actually hear (the storm) coming … I could see it racing across the parking lot at me … and the RV just went,” he said.
Later Thursday morning, Clement was driving south toward Cameron, the coastal community near where Laura made landfall.
“The farther south I get, I’m seeing more intense damage,” including homes, businesses and farm buildings destroyed or missing roofs, he told CNN.
“It looks a lot like tornado damage,” he said.
Trees are down, and roofs and siding gone
In the Louisiana town of Vinton, near the Texas state line, Keisha Freeman said she and her neighbors took shelter in a shed meant to withstand hurricane conditions.
When they emerged, they saw most roofs and siding on homes were gone, she said.
“Almost every home has incredible damage,” Freeman said.
Just west of Lake Charles, in the city of Sulphur, John Burch’s home lost power shortly after 1:30 a.m.
“There’s a tree down in every person’s yard,” Burch said.
Mat Mcgee was near the eyewall of Hurricane Laura when he saw the metal building in front of his barge get ripped apart in Hackberry, Louisiana, he told CNN.
The wind pulled off the roof, the door and knocked over the tower on the site.
More than 10,000 people in Texas and Louisiana took refuge in emergency lodging such as official shelters and hotels, the American Red Cross said.
The fate of inland residents continued to be a top worry for retired US Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who coordinated the joint military response in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, then weeks later aided the response to Hurricane Rita, which hit around the same places as Laura.
“We might have gotten a break on the projected surge (from Laura), but I would suspect much of Cameron (Parish along the coast) is pretty bad torn up, particularly all the reconstruction that had happened since Hurricane Rita,” Honore told CNN from Baton Rouge.
Honore feared many who live away from the coast had opted to ride out Laura at home, he said.
“In Lake Charles, a lot of people could be hurt, and as you go further north into Beauregard Parish and up toward Fort Polk, a lot of folks live up there in mobile homes, and I only fear – knowing that Cameron was fully evacuated, a big effort in Calcasieu (Parish) and Lake Charles to get people to evacuated – I hope the same was done further north because this could be very devastating … where people don’t live in very sturdy homes,” he said. “That is my biggest concern.”
Still a threat
Laura still could deliver damaging wind gusts in parts of northern Louisiana and Arkansas though Thursday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
Laura was expected to drop another 4 to 8 inches of rain across parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Isolated amounts of 18 inches are possible in Louisiana, the NHC said.
Laura is the seventh named storm to make landfall in the US so far this year, a record for the most to do so before the end of August. There have been four tropical storms and three hurricanes.
CNN’s Martin Savidge, Gary Tuchman, Brandon Miller, Devon Sayers, Michelle Krupa, Christina Zdanowicz, Paul P. Murphy, Gregory Wallace,Tina Burnside and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.