Hurricane Laura, the most powerful storm ever to make landfall in Louisiana, left a broad path of destruction across much of the western portion of the state Thursday, arriving in Cameron Parish at 1 a.m. and cutting a swath of misery to Shreveport before its exit across the Arkansas border.
Hundreds of thousands of residents were without power and scores of homes were damaged or destroyed. The 22-story Capital One tower in downtown Lake Charles was bathed in broken glass after the storm blew out dozens of its windows. Roofs were ripped off, and trees and power lines lay tangled across a number of major roads.
But it could have been worse: because of a last-minute jog that had it enter the state right at the mouth of the Calcasieu River rather than a bit farther west at the mouth of the Sabine, the 20-foot storm surge forecasters promised would flood Lake Charles was dramatically reduced.
Officials with the National Hurricane Center said the chance shift resulted in the highest surge spreading inland through unpopulated wetlands in western Cameron and Vermilion parishes, instead of up the Calcasieu River.
Blessedly, the catastrophic warning by the National Hurricane Center late Wednesday of a 20-foot wall of storm surge in Cameron Parish to acco…
“If it had been 10-12 miles to the west, Lake Charles would have had extremely serious inundation,” said Steve Goldstein, the NOAA liaison to FEMA, during a Thursday afternoon conference call with reporters. “Just a little bit of turn, 10-12 miles here or there can make such a difference when it comes to surge.”
And at least one Army Corps of Engineers gauge to the east of the landfall, on the Mermanteau River at Grand Chenier, captured a 17.14 foot water level above sea level at 2 a.m Thursday, an indicator that surge was significantly higher to the east.
But Laura’s winds, which remained at hurricane strength through noon on Thursday, created more than enough havoc to keep emergency personnel busy for weeks.
“Devastating,” said Philip Whittington as he and his family sifted through the remains of their mobile home in Sweet Lake, a small community in Cameron Parish. His chimney was blown off, and his new shed essentially exploded.
“It looks like a war zone,” he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said at least six people died, most of them victims of trees falling on their houses as they sheltered in place in various locations in southwest Louisiana. He said that the number of dead could grow as thousands of local, state and federal officials fan out in search-and-rescue efforts, survey damage and restore water and power.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Edwards said at an early afternoon news conference, “But we are in better shape today than might have been the case.”
LAKE CHARLES—Lonnie LaGrange spent his 38th birthday hunkered down in a Lake Charles church’s recreation center as Hurricane Laura tore throug…
Laura’s 150 mph winds at landfall easily topped both Hurricane Audrey of 1956, with top winds of 126 mph at landfall, and Hurricane Rita, with 115 mph winds as it came ashore. But so far, the six deaths attributed to Laura are much lower than the 416 dead during Audrey and 120 in Rita.
The “Last Island” hurricane of 1856, which overwhelmed Isle Derniere, is listed as having 150 mph winds at landfall, but that’s an estimate based on central pressure readings from nearby ships, rather than modern wind measuring instruments. Hurricane Katrina’s top winds at landfall were 125 mph. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 blew in at 132 mph.
Weather experts are still assessing the impact of Hurricane Laura, but it looks to be the strongest storm to ever make landfall in Louisiana.
Both wind and water were blamed for significant damage in the Lake Charles area, including a dangerous chemical fire that erupted early Thursday at the sprawling Biolab Inc. manufacturing plant in nearby Westlake. The fire resulted in a release of chlorine gas that prompted shelter-in-place orders for nearby residents.
Electrical service was out for more than 600,000 customers in Louisiana, and Entergy Corp. reported at mid-afternoon that another 250,000 were without power in Texas. More outages were reported in Arkansas and Mississippi.
Interstate 10 in the Lake Charles area was closed both at the site of the chemical fire and at the Calcasieu River bridge, where the Isle of Capri Grand Palais riverboat casino was pulled from its moorings and wedged beneath the bridge.
The riverboat was unjammed and moved by Thursday afternoon, but the bridge will remain closed for inspections that won’t be able to take place until after the chemical fire is put out and the danger of gas is removed.
The Louisiana Department Health said at least 67 water systems in Laura’s path were “inoperable,” meaning more than 200,000 people may not have access to water for drinking or other uses. State officials said that posed the potential of yet another major public health crisis for people returning to their homes, and they urged people to consider remaining evacuated as an assessment takes place.
In a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters on Thursday, President Donald Trump said he planned to inspect damage in Louisiana and Texas in the next few days, possibly over the weekend.
As southwest Louisiana begins to pick up the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Laura, it can soon expect a visit from President Donald Trump.
Laura’s effects were widespread throughout the state. In Church Point, northwest of Lafayette, heavy rainfall resulted in flash flooding, with water entering homes at about 2 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Despite the lower than expected surge up the Calcasieu River, there were reports of surge water from Lake Charles entering a downtown parking lot in the city. A part of the St. Pat’s skybridge downtown was blown down and a number of highrise buildings reported windows blown out.
Numerous trees were uprooted or snapped on Laura’s path through the western part of the state during the day.
A flyover of Lake Charles and nearby coastal areas Thursday afternoon by The Times-Picayune | The Advocate revealed the scope of the damage.
In some Lake Charles neighborhoods, nearly every home had visible roof damage and broken fences. And along the Sabine River, Laura left flooded neighborhoods and wrecked homes extending to the Gulf of Mexico on both sides of the Louisiana-Texas border.
The town of Cameron, a 400-person community that sits along the coast, appeared to be covered with water, as were the roads leading in and out.
State and federal officials said it was still too early to have a good grasp on how many homes were damaged or destroyed, but MaryAnn Tierney, regional administrator of FEMA’s Philadelphia area office, said during a Thursday press briefing that there was “significant” damage to Calcasieu Parish.
It may be several days before National Weather Service personnel have the time to inspect potential damage from a few tornado touchdowns that are believed to have occurred all across the state on Wednesday and Thursday. On both days, weather service offices in Lake Charles and Slidell issued dozens of tornado warnings, as intense thunderstorm cells created possible funnel clouds.
Even before Hurricane Laura made landfall, the offers of support for people impacted by the storm were stacking up at the Hilton New Orleans …
Laura’s trailing outer bands also continued to pose rainfall threats, with some locations seeing brief periods of rainfalls approaching 4 inches an hour in southeastern and central parts of the state.
And forecasters late Thursday were already turning their attention back to the tropics.
Louisianans are still reeling from the devastating impact of Hurricane Laura, the most powerful storm ever to hit the state, while experts beg…
A tropical wave moving west from near the Cabo Verde Islands is expected to track north of the windward Islands towards the Bahamas over the next five days. It has a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression. Another system in the central tropical Atlantic is expected to reach the central Caribbean Sea in five days and has a 30% chance of development.
-With additional reporting from Youssef Rddad.