Laura Blasts Gulf Coast With Wind, Rain and Wall of Seawater

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (AP) -
Reginald Duhon prepares to work at his home on Thursday, in Lake Charles, La., after Hurricane Laura moved through the state. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hurricane Laura pounded the Gulf Coast with ferocious wind and torrential rain and unleashed a wall of seawater that could push 40 miles inland as the Category 4 storm roared ashore Thursday in Louisiana near the Texas border. At least one person was killed.

Laura battered a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground. Police spotted a floating caisson that came unmoored and hit a bridge. But hours after the hurricane made landfall, the wind and rain were still blowing too hard for authorities to check for survivors.

More than 600,000 homes and businesses were without power in the two states, according to the website PowerOutage.Us, which tracks utility reports.

The National Hurricane Center said Laura slammed the coast with winds of 150 mph (241 kph) at 1 a.m. CDT near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the Texas border. Forecasters had warned that the storm surge would be “unsurvivable” and the damage “catastrophic.”

They predicted a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet in Port Arthur, Texas, and a stretch of Louisiana including Lake Charles, a city of 80,000 people on Lake Calcasieu.

“This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and floodwaters will not fully recede for several days,” the hurricane center said.

Hours after it arrived, Laura weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). The storm was 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Shreveport and moving north. Damaging winds extended outward as far as 175 miles (280 kilometers), according to the hurricane center.

More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars since officials did not want to open large shelters that could invite more spread of COVID-19.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor urged people in Laura’s path to stay home, if that’s still safe. “Don’t go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk, and you put first responders at risk,” he told “CBS This Morning.”

FEMA has plenty of resources staged to help survivors, Gaynor said. Edwards mobilized the National Guard to help, and state Department of Wildlife crews had boats prepared for water rescues.

Forecasters expected a weakened Laura to cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. An unusual tropical storm warning was issued as far north as Little Rock, where forecasters expected gusts of 50 mph (80 kph) and a deluge of rain through Friday. The storm was so powerful that it could regain strength after turning east and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, potentially threatening the densely populated Northeast.

Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.

It was the seventh named storm to strike the U.S. this year, setting a new record for U.S. landfalls by the end of August. The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.