Lake Charles, Louisiana: The remnants of Hurricane Laura unleashed heavy rain and twisters hundreds of kilometres inland from a path of death and mangled buildings along the Gulf Coast, and forecasters warn of new dangers as the tropical weather blows toward the eastern seaboard this weekend.
Flooding and more tornadoes were possible on Friday local time (Saturday AEST) as the leftovers of the once fearsome Category 4 hurricane, now a tropical depression, move eastward. Already, an apparent tornado tore through a church and homes in Arkansas. Forecasters said it could become a tropical storm again when it moves off the mid-Atlantic coast.
Buildings near Lake Charles are flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Credit:AP
More than 750,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas in the storm's wake, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
One of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Laura was blamed for six deaths as it barrelled ashore near the Louisiana-Texas state line.
A sense of relief prevailed that Laura was not the annihilating menace forecasters had feared, but a full assessment of the damage could take days.
Entire neighbourhoods were submerged and ruined along and near the coast. Twisted sheets of metal and debris, downed trees and power lines littered nearly every street. Caravans of utility trucks were met on Friday by thunderstorms in the sizzling heat, complicating recovery efforts.
"It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. "But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage."
A confederate statue was toppled in front of the courthouse in Lake Charles.Credit:AP
"It looks like 1000 tornadoes went through here. It's just destruction everywhere," said Brett Geymann, who rode out the storm with three relatives in Moss Bluff, near Lake Charles. He described a roar like a jet engine as Laura passed over his house around 2am.
"There are houses that are totally gone," he said.
The extent of the damage was just coming into focus when a massive plume of smoke began rising from a chemical plant outside Lake Charles. Police said the leak was at a facility run by Biolab, which manufactures chemicals used in household cleaners and chlorine powder for pools. Nearby residents were told to close their doors and windows, and the fire smouldered into the night.
Four people were killed by falling trees in Louisiana, including a 14-year-old girl and a 68-year-old man. A 24-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his residence. Another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, authorities said. No deaths were confirmed in Texas, which Governor Greg Abbott called "a miracle."
A drone photo shows the roof blown off of an AutoZone store in Lake Charles.Credit:AP
A lower-than-expected storm surge also helped save lives. Edwards said ocean water rose as much as four metres rather than the six 6 metres that was predicted.
More than 580,000 coastal residents evacuated despite fears of coronavirus infections. It's unclear when their journeys might end. There's no electricity or running water in many places, and the coastal towns of Cameron and Holly Beach were swamped. Restoring essential services could take weeks.
Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the US this year, setting a new record for US landfalls by the end of August. Laura hit the US after killing nearly two dozen people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
President Donald Trump planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.
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