Hurricane Laura barrelled through south-west Louisiana, destroying buildings in the city of Lake Charles and killing a 14-year-old girl after making landfall early on Thursday as one of the most powerful storms to hit the state.
- Parts of Louisiana were decimated but Texas was largely unscathed
- The hurricane blew out windows in the large Capital One building
- The category 4 storm packing winds of 240 kilometres per hour in the small town of Cameron
The hurricane’s first reported US fatality was a 14-year-old girl in Leesville, Louisiana, who died when a tree fell on her house, a spokesperson for Governor John Bel Edwards said.
“We do expect that there could be more fatalities,” the spokesperson, Christina Stephens, said on Twitter.
A chemical plant caught fire in Laura’s wake on Thursday morning in Westlake, Louisiana, 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Lake Charles, sending thick black smoke billowing into the sky over the wind-torn landscape near Interstate 10.
Governor Edwards warned residents in the area to shelter in place, close doors and windows and turn off air conditioners as authorities investigated.
“Stay inside and wait for additional direction from local officials,” Edwards wrote on Twitter.
Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds howling and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 137 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 206 kilometres per hour.
Social media footage showed the windows of the city’s 22-floor Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fencing and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the streets.
Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old paediatrician, was anxiously anticipating his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.
“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Laura made landfall just before 1:00 am (local time) as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 240 kilometres per hour in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
It rapidly weakened to a Category 2 storm on Thursday morning (local time) with maximum sustained winds of 160 kilometres per hour, and was forecast to become a tropical storm later in the day.
However, the NHC warned that the threat of a possibly deadly storm surge would continue along the Louisiana coast as Laura moved north and then north-east.
Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall, has a population of just under 7,000 and is home to a national wildlife refuge. The marshland there is particularly vulnerable to a storm surge of ocean water.
“This is one of the strongest storms to impact that section of coastline,” said David Roth, a National Weather Service forecaster.
“We worry about that storm surge going so far inland there because it’s basically all marshland … There is little to stop the water.”
The storm surge, which the NHC predicted would be “unsurvivable,” was still forecast to raise water levels up to 6 metres in parts of Cameron Parish on Thursday morning (local time).
Texas largely avoids destruction
Around 600,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana and Texas were without power early Thursday (local time), and local utilities in the storm’s path warned the outage numbers would climb as the storm marched inland.
The eastern coastal counties of Texas that had braced for the worst were largely spared Laura’s rage.
About 620,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Louisiana and Texas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said between 5,000 and 10,000 people had evacuated ahead of the storm in his state.
Laura could spawn tornadoes on Thursday (local time) over Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi, and was expected to drop 15 to 30 centimetres of rain over the region, the NHC said.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had pre-positioned teams throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to respond.
“The next 48 hours are really going to be critical from a life safety standpoint,” Mr Wolf said.