The Latest: Laura weakens to tropical storm, moves inland
The Latest on Hurricane Laura:
MIAMI — Hurricane Laura has weakened to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of nearly 70 mph. Authorities say the storm is now 50 miles southeast of Shreveport.
Flooding rainfall and damaging winds spread inland over central and northern Louisiana, where the storm made landfall eleven hours earlier as a Category 4 storm.
Communities along the Gulf Coast experienced high water levels in the wake of Laura, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. this year.
More than 700,000 people in Louisiana and Texas were without power Thursday afternoon, according to the website PowerOutage.Us, which tracks utility reports.
National Weather Service officials said the remnants of Hurricane Laura could spawn tornadoes and cause flash flooding in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.
WESTLAKE, La. — Louisiana State Police say they’re responding to a chlorine leak at a company that makes chemicals along Interstate 10 just west of Lake Charles, La., which was hard-hit when Hurricane Laura slammed into the Gulf Coast early Thursday.
Police say the leak is at the BioLab chemical manufacturing facility in Westlake. Residents in the area are being told to close their doors and windows, turn off their air conditioning and stay inside.
Police say they’re working with plant managers to try and contain the leak. BioLab’s Lake Charles plant was built in 1979 and manufactures trichloroisocyanuric acid, chlorinating granules and other chemicals used in such household cleaners as Comet bleach scrub and pool chlorine powder.
Both trichloroisocyanuric acid and chlorine are potentially acutely toxic to people and animals if ingested or inhaled. Chlorine gas, which can appear in the air as a greenish yellow cloud, was used as a chemical weapon in World War 1. It is a potent irritant to the eyes, throat and lungs.
A Confederate general has fallen victim to Hurricane Laura. The South’s Defenders monument has stood since 1915 outside a courthouse in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where local authorities voted 10-4 this month to keep it in place.
Critics call it a symbol of racism that glorifies slavery. But a Calcasieu Parish official said they asked for public comments, and got 878 written responses against relocating the monument, and only 67 in favor of moving it.
Now the pedestal is empty, and the Confederate statue is in pieces on the ground, victim to a Category 4 hurricane that struck the city early Thursday.
A large chemical fire has sent a dangerous cloud over Lake Charles, Louisiana, hours after the eye of Hurricane Laura passed directly over the city.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says the fire was burning Thursday morning just outside the city, and he’s advising storm survivors to shelter in place.
Edwards tweeted that people “in the Westlake/Moss Bluff/Sulphur area” should close their windows and doors and turn off their air conditioning units.
President Donald Trump will get a briefing about Hurricane Laura Thursday at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Trump will get an afternoon briefing after a noon roundtable with supporters at Trump International Hotel in Washington and before he makes his evening speech from the White House to accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump has already been briefed by acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, and is getting regular updates about conditions on the ground.
McEnany says “Hurricane Laura remains a deadly hurricane with devastating coastal storm surges, destructive winds and flash flooding.” She says Trump is committed to deploying federal resources to help those in distress and restore services to affected areas.
The National Hurricane Center says Laura remains a hurricane, sustaining top winds of 75 mph (120 kph) more than 170 miles after landfall.
The powerful storm struck land near Cameron on the southwest Louisiana coast at about 1 a.m. Thursday. Nine hours later, it was about 10 miles north of Natchitoches, Louisiana, and had not yet weakened into a tropical storm.
The hurricane is expected to keep drenching Louisiana and then Arkansas as a tropical storm, causing widespread flash flooding and damage from winds. It was moving north near 16 mph (26 kmh).
Reports are coming in from people who rode out Hurricane Laura in Louisiana.
Brett Geymann lives in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles, and said the eye of the storm passed directly over them. He says his house survived but every other building, structure and tree on his property is gone.
Geymann says his family’s OK but “there’s destruction all around” them.
He says “It looks like 1,000 tornadoes” came through, with some houses “totally gone.”
Drone video in the Lake Charles area shows water surrounding homes with large parts of their roofs peeled off, hotels with rooms exposed and giant trees uprooted.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Hurricane Laura is headed toward Arkansas, where an unusual tropical storm warning has been issued for much of the state.
The storm is hitting during the state’s first week back at public school since March. Many schools in the southern half of Arkansas opted to cancel classes Thursday or dismiss early because of the storm.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared an emergency and set aside $250,000 for the state to prepare for the hurricane’s impact. Hutchinson said the state will have search and rescue teams on standby.
Laura is now a Category 1 hurricane but still blowing hard enough to be deadly. The first reported death, of a girl whose house was hit by a tree, was in Leesburg, more than 100 miles inland from the coast.
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Early reports emerging in the wake of Hurricane Laura show less damage than what was feared.
The eye passed directly over Lake Charles, where drone video shows roofs ripped off, exposing living rooms to the elements; trees downed and water overflowing the banks of coastal properties.
But FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor says the damage seems to be less than what they feared with Laura hitting the coast as a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane early Thursday.
Gaynor told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the surge turned out to be less than what was forecasted, but he expects significant wind damage to buildings once they do proper surveys of the disaster area.
Louisiana State Police Maj. Doug Cain said they received a report that the Isle of Capri’s riverboat casino broke from its mooring and was stuck against the Interstate 10 bridge in Lake Charles. The casino says its Grand Palais riverboat houses 34 table games and more than 1,175 slot machines.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s received report of the first fatality from Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, a 14-year-old girl who died when a tree fell on her home in Leesburg.
The governors of Louisiana and Texas say search and rescue teams are still looking, but they’ve found no reports so far of widespread fatalities.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is crediting the evacuations of thousands of people for preventing deaths in Texas. Edwards says they are only beginning to assess the damage.
Both governors say the storm surge appears to have been not as bad as they feared.
Abbott said the hurricane’s storm surge hit the east Texas communities of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange “pretty hard” overnight and the eye of the hurricane has continued to move about 100 miles north along the Texas-Louisiana state line.
MIAMI — Forecasters say Laura remained a Category 2 hurricane about 6 hours after making landfall.
The National Hurricane Center said the hurricane still packed sustained winds of 100 mph, according to an update Thursday morning. That makes it a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Its center was about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Officials in multiple areas hit hard by the Hurricane Laura are unsure when rescuers will reach people affected by the storm.
In Holly Beach, Louisiana, many residents raised the level of their homes after Hurricane Rita, but there were fears that the houses still were not high enough to withstand up to 20 feet of storm surge, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“We’re hopeful those people got out, but as soon as it’s safe for the first responders to get in there, we’re hopeful that we don’t find people that didn’t make it,” Nungesser said Thursday.
Dick Gremillion, director for Calcasieu Parish Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said his office hasn’t been able to start assessing the damage yet because of high winds and the need for daylight.
But he cited the tide gauge further south in Cameron Parish, which appears to have been less than the predicted 20 feet of surge.
The Louisiana National Guard has 222 high-water vehicles and 65 boats staged across south Louisiana, for search and rescue efforts when it’s safe to do so.
FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor urged people to stay home if they were safe.
“Stay in your home. Don’t go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk and you put first responders at risk. … stay home,” he said during an interview on CBS’ “This Morning.”
Power companies are reporting that nearly 470,000 homes and businesses were without electricity early Thursday in Louisiana and Texas.
That’s according to the website PowerOutage.US, which tracks utility reports.
New Orleans-based Entergy said shortly before the storm struck that the hardest-hit areas may experience outages for weeks.
The company says it has crews coming from 20 states to help, including some from as far away as Wisconsin and Virginia.
LAKE CHARLES, La. — The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Laura has weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 120 mph (195 kph) a few hours after making landfall.
It’s centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph (24 kph). Hurricane-force winds and damaging wind gusts are spreading well inland into parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana.
The hurricane center has updated its guidance on the ocean water pushed ashore, saying they expect unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes.
Forecasters predict the highest surge, up to 20 feet, along a stretch of Louisiana coastline that includes Johnson Bayou and the towns of Holly Beach and Cameron.
Forecasters say this surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters won’t fully recede for days.
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Videos on social media show heavy winds and rain battering a tall building in Lake Charles, Louisiana, blowing out windows and littering glass and debris into the air and onto the ground as Hurricane Laura moves over southwestern Louisiana.
The damage was observed in Lake Charles, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of where the storm made landfall in Cameron early Thursday.
Other videos from the area show road signs bending, trees shaking violently and a large recreational vehicle being blown over.
More than 290,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana, as near-constant lightning provided the only light for some. Officials say search and rescue missions will begin as soon as conditions allow, along with damage assessments.
LAKE CHARLES, La. — An official in a southwestern Louisiana parish says some people who did not evacuate are now requesting assistance.
Tony Guillory, president of Calcasieu Parish’s police jury, was hunkering down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm early Thursday as phones were ringing.
“People are calling the building but there ain’t no way to get to them,” he said over the phone.
Guillory said he hopes those stranded can be rescued later Thursday, but blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could complicate the process.
CAMERON, La. — Forecasters say Hurricane Laura has made landfall in southwestern Louisiana as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center reports the storm made landfall at 1 a.m. CDT on Thursday near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the Texas border. It had maximum sustained winds of 150mph (240 kph), making it the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.
Forecasters warned the strong winds could rip apart buildings, level trees and toss vehicles like toys.
Video and photos on social media showed torrents of rain flying sideways past street lights in Lake Charles, and streets covered with water closer to the coast. A sudden storm surge knocked over cameras meant to capture the hurricane’s effects.
Forecasters also issued a string of tornado warnings as the storm pushed on to land, but there were no immediate reports of damage. More than 100,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana.