Hurricane Laura live coverage: Trump to visit damaged areas; at least 6 dead after 'extensive' damage to Louisiana
Hurricane Laura roared ashore on the border of Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 storm early Thursday, ripping apart buildings, severing power lines and clogging streets with debris as a dangerous storm surge trailed behind. Over 800,000 customers were without power and at least four deaths had been reported in Louisiana.
With sustained winds of 150 mph, Laura's eye made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, at about 1 a.m. CDT before plowing a path of destruction north toward Arkansas, where the weakened storm was predicted to then curve east through Kentucky and Tennessee by Friday evening.
By noon CDT, sustained winds had dropped to 50 mph, and Laura became a tropical storm, forecasters said. Although the storm was weakening, forecasters continued to warn of flooding danger.
The National Hurricane Center said that "damaging winds and flooding rainfall" were spreading over central and northern Louisiana as the storm moves inland. "High water levels persist along portions of the Gulf Coast," forecasters added.
"Although Laura is weakening, strong wind gusts are likely to spread over northern Louisiana and Arkansas into this evening," the hurricane center said.
The latest developments:
- President Donald Trump said he'd be visiting damaged areas this weekend.
- Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at least four people have died in Hurricane Laura.
- Laura is forecast to move north across western and northern Louisiana on Thursday as it makes its way toward Arkansas Thursday evening.
- The National Hurricane Center says storm surge will lead to elevated water levels for the next few hours from Sabine Pass, Texas, to Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Where the surge has reached inland, flood waters may not fully recede for several days.
- Parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi could see tornadoes Thursday, too.
This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.
Two more deaths brings toll to 6 in Louisiana; none in Texas
Louisiana officials now know of 6 deaths tied to Hurricane Laura.
Besides the four they earlier identified, the fatalities included a 24-year-old male who died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his residence and a man who drowned when his vessel sank, authorities said.
Earlier, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards noted four deaths attributed to Hurricane Laura, all caused by trees falling on residences. None were on the coast. Rather, they occurred in Vernon, Jackson and Acadia parishes.
In Vernon Parish, a 14-year-old Leesville girl was killed when a tree fell on her house. The Acadia Parish death involved a 68-year-old man killed when a 50- to 60-foot pine tree toppled onto his bedroom, the Acadiana Advocate reported.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was a "miracle" that his state appears to have had no deaths from Hurricane Laura.
– Staff and wire reports | 6:41 CDT
Tropical Storm Laura packs 50-mph winds, heads for Arkansas
Now a tropical storm, Laura still is packing a punch.
The storm was still producing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph as the center moved about 80 miles northeast of Shreveport, Louisiana, as of 4 p.m. CST, the National Hurricane Center reported.
Next stop: southern Arkansas. It was moving north to northeast at about 15 mph. Tropical storm warnings remained in effect inland over portions of northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, and extreme western Mississippi.
By Saturday, a substantially weekend Laura is predicted to be in the Atlantic states.
–Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY | 5:08 p.m. CST
Plans to fly? Airlines making it easy to rebook out of Laura's path
Major airlines are making it easy for fliers to stay out of harm's way when it comes to the once-destructive hurricane, now tropical storm, Laura.
United, Southwest, Delta, American and Spirit are issuing fee waivers to allow travelers to change their flight plans without any cost.
In response to the hurricane, airlines have been canceling flights, with over 400 flights to and from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Wednesday canceled, according to flight tracker FlightAware. There are 211 flights canceled so far for Thursday.
–Morgan Hines, USA TODAY | 4:45 a.m. CST
Lake Charles, Louisiana, lucked out on storm surge, but not on wind
When it came to predictions for the path of Hurricane Laura, Lake Charles, Louisiana got lucky when it came to the storm surge, federal officials told reporters Thursday.
The center of the hurricane came ashore about 10 to 12 miles farther east than what had been forecast, saving the city from a direct hit and a worse storm surge, said Steve Goldstein, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration liaison for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But while the city beat predictions of a 20-foot surge, it was hit badly by wind. A top speed of 128 mph was recorded at Lake Charles' airport. It was "fortunate in one way but less fortunate in others," Goldstein said.
–Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY | 4:01 p.m. CST
Falling trees cause carnage in Lousiana's timber country
While Hurricane Laura caused massive damage on the Louisana coast, it also tore inland through the heart of the state's timber country.
About 100 miles inland in Beauregard Parish where forestry is a $123-million annual business, the storm’s ferocious winds did all the damage. Downed trees blocked roads, smashed homes and felled power lines. In the parish seat of DeRidder, the gusts wrenched sheet metal from steel beams and many mistook the whistle of the wind for the sound of sirens.
“There was a roaring all night long,” said DeRidder resident Edward Bonilla. “It’s much, much worse than Rita. Everybody has trees in their homes.”
Andrew J. Yawn, the American South, New Orleans | 3:01 p.m. CST
Texas, Louisiana suffering from widespread power outages
Laura has knocked out power to over 800,000 customers in Texas and Louisiana. According to poweroutage.us, 614,000 customers were without electricity in Louisiana. In Texas, more than 186,000 outages were reported.
In areas that sustained the worst damage from the Category 4 hurricane, power outages "could last weeks," the National Hurricane Center said.
– Staff report | 2:03 p.m. CDT
Trump to visit areas battered by Hurricane Laura
President Donald Trump says he plans to visit areas heavily damaged by Hurricane Laura this weekend.
“Now it turned out we got a little bit lucky. It was very big. It was very powerful but it passed quickly," Trump said Thursday during a visit to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he received an update on the storm. "... We’ll probably be going on Saturday or Sunday. We’ll be heading to Texas and Louisiana, and maybe an additional stop.”
FEMA Director Peter Gaynor showed Trump and Vice President Mike Pence photos showing downed trees, buildings with roofs ripped off, and a fire in Lake Charles, Louisiana. A large video screen charted the path of the storm.
“This was a serious storm,” Pence said. “We were ready for the worst. ... It was not as bad as it could have been.”
Gaynor urged people in the storm area to stay safe and to not go outside unless necessary. Debris could contain live electrical wires, he said. “Stay home and pay attention to the warnings,” he said. “Please don’t go out sightseeing.”
Trump, who will deliver his GOP nomination acceptance speech on the White House South Lawn later Thursday, said he considered delaying the address because of the storm but now feels that’s unnecessary.
– USA TODAY's Michael Collins, Washington, D.C. | 1:55 p.m. CDT
Riverboat casino wedges under I-10 bridge after blowing away
The Isle of Capri riverboat casino in Lake Charles broke from its mooring overnight and floated away, wedging itself under the I-10 bridge, according to a report received by Louisiana State Police Maj. Doug Cain.
The casino hotel in Lake Charles closed its doors on Tuesday ahead of Hurricane Laura's landfall, according to its Facebook page.
The casino riverboat, called the Grand Palais, houses more than 1,175 slot machines and 34 table games, according to its website.
– Daniella Medina, Lafayette Daily Advertiser | 11:54 a.m. CDT
Waffle House Index: Laura closes 18 Waffle Houses in Texas, Louisiana
After Hurricane Laura roared through the Texas and Louisiana coasts, the popular breakfast chain Waffle House was forced to close 18 locations as of Thursday morning.
That's significant because of the Waffle House Index: A tool coined by then-FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, after he noticed two Waffle House locations in Joplin, Missouri, stayed open through a tornado that caused $2.8 billion worth of damage and killed 158 people in the area.
Waffle House has a reputation for staying open through even the most intense weather disasters, so when you see one with the lights off and a "Closed" sign on the door, things are serious.
– Sophie Blaylock, Corpus Christi Caller Times | 11:42 a.m. CDT
Reports: 60-year-old man killed after tree fell in Louisiana
A second fatality due to Hurricane Laura was reported Thursday morning in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. The Acadiana Advocate and KLFY-TV reported that a 60-year-old man in Iota died after a tree fell onto him.
– Staff reports | 11:25 a.m. CDT
Hurricane Laura causes Mississippi River to flow backward
Thanks to Hurricane Laura, the Mississippi River was flowing backward on Wednesday, Weather.com reported. It was spotted near St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.
This isn't the first time it's reversed directions: The river also flowed backward during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Although it doesn't happen often, hurricanes can cause coastal rivers to reverse flow, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Between the extremely strong winds and the massive waves of water pushed by those winds, rivers at regular or low flow are forced backwards until either the normal river-flow or the elevation of the land stop the inflow," the USGS said.
When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005, the Mississippi River also reversed flow, cresting at 13 feet above its previous level, with Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reaching 9 feet above its previous stage as well.
It's not just extreme weather that can cause the effect, the BBC said: An earthquake near the New Madrid fault in Missouri in 1812 also reversed the Mississippi River's flow for several hours.
– Doyle Rice, USA TODAY | 11:10 a.m. CDT
Laura's wind damage extensive east of Beaumont, Texas
Tree limbs littered roads and highways in communities east of Beaumont, Texas, along the Louisiana border. In Pinehurst and Orange, some roads were impassable and the power was out.
Gary Phillips was released from the local hospital with heart issues just a day before the storm. He stayed at a friend's house less than three miles away that lost power shortly after landfall.
Phillips emerged from the home and walked the neighborhood to find the roof and awnings of a once-busy convenience store twisted and tattered.
"We've had (hurricanes) before, but this one? It did a number," said Phillips, 52. "The wind really tore things up, bigtime."
As much as 70% of Orange County is without electricity, said Joel Ardoin,emergency management coordinator. Officials were still assessing the damage, though some local roads were treacherous because of downed trees.
– Chris Ramirez, Corpus Christi Caller Times | 10:37 a.m. CDT
Laura damages Lake Charles confederate memorial
Hurricane Laura brought down a controversial Confederate monument in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after officials voted to keep the statue earlier this month.
The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury voted earlier this month to let the South's Defenders Monument remain on the grounds of a courthouse in Lake Charles, but Twitter posts Thursday morning showed images of the monument with the general in pieces on the ground.
Dedicated in 1915, the monument honors Confederate soldiers from the area and other towns across the South.
– Grace Pateras, USA TODAY Network | 10:19 a.m. CDT
Chemical fire erupts near Lake Charles, part of I-10 closed
A fire broke out on the west side of Lake Charles, Louisiana, causing gases and smoke to plume over I-10. The fire seems to have erupted at a chemical plant site or oil refinery, according to multiple reports on social media Thursday morning.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said residents are advised to shelter in place until further notice.
I-10 is closed at Sulphur, Louisiana, due to the massive chlorine leak, a HAM radio operator told the National Weather Service. The Cajun Navy shared a video on Facebook warning residents to avoid entering Lake Charles through Sulphur.
– Daniella Medina, Lafayette Daily Advertiser | 10:13 a.m. CDT
Storm surge 'about half of what was projected,' Louisiana governor says
While the winds from Hurricane Laura were as fierce as had been forecast, the hurricane's storm surge may not have been as bad as had been projected in some areas, according to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
"I will tell you the damage was extensive," Edwards said in an interview with CNN. "The wind speed was as promised. Right now I believe we got a break on the storm surge — about half of what was projected."
The storm surge had been forecast for as high as 20 feet in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, but came onshore at 11 feet, he said.
National Hurricane Center storm surge specialist Jamie Rhome, however, said that the center's "initial analysis indicate it was as bad as feared in Cameron Parish." The 11-foot reading may have been on the far western side of the parish, not the east side, where the surge was higher, Rhome said.
"We don't have any observations so it is premature to say the surge was 'x' feet," he said. "Our 'hindcast' model analysis suggests the forecast of 10-20 feet (surge) verified, but east of Cameron, Louisiana."
– Doyle Rice, USA TODAY | 9:30 a.m. CDT
Cajun Navy responds: Louisiana 'is in trouble and will need help'
As Hurricane Laura continues to slam Louisiana and Texas with gusty winds and heavy rain, Cajun Navy Relief and Rescue has boots on the ground all over the U.S. Gulf coast.
The group is a nonprofit citizen-led organization dedicated to saving lives during natural disasters, and in preparation for rescue missions, member Donald Elam said instrumental supplies required are: first aid kits, extra fuel, chainsaw, life jackets for adults and children, a bag of tools and plenty of water and masks.
Cajun Navy and other response teams were staged in Louisiana at Lake Charles and Jennings and in Texas at Baytown and Beaumont.
"This historic storm is still raging at the Cajun Navy staging area near Lake Charles. (Southwest Louisiana) is in trouble and will need help," the team posted on Facebook.
– Daniella Medina, Lafayette Daily Advertiser | 9:13 a.m. CDT
Texas Gov. Abbott: 'We are not yet out of the woods'
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, appearing Thursday morning on NBC’s "TODAY" show, said the Lone Star State no reported fatalities in the initial hours after the Laura struck but said emergency workers were “still going through the ravages of the storm.”
“We had well over 5,000, maybe up to 10,000 people who did evacuate, especially around those regions where the hurricane came across shore,” Abbott said. “I have no doubt that because of the evacuations that did take place, that reduced the loss of life.”
As many as 100,000 Texans were without power, he added. Search and rescue operations were ongoing.
“This is, unfortunately, not our first rodeo in dealing with something like this,” Abbott said. “We are not yet out of the woods.”
– USA TODAY Network's John C. Moritz from Austin | 8:40 a.m. CDT
At least one person killed in Louisiana
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said southwestern Louisiana has suffered "extensive damage" overnight and a 14-year-old Leesville girl was killed when a tree fell on her house.
"We have about 1,500 people engaged in search and rescue moving into Lake Charles area now," Edwards said. "We're also going to have to do some of this search and rescue work all way up the western side of state as the storm moves north."
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., was surveying damage between Lake Charles and DeRidder in his pickup truck early Thursday morning. "Very few structures have been left untouched," Abraham said. "It's like an obstacle course on the roads with trees, debris and power poles and lines down."
– Greg Hilburn, Monroe News-Star | 8:17 a.m. CDT
Port Arthur, Texas, mostly spared from widespread damage
Hurricane Laura pounded southeast Texas for several hours overnight but didn’t seem to deliver the same level of devastation it levied on Louisiana.
Port Arthur, Texas, was mostly spared from widespread damage and roads in and out of the city appeared passable, according to local newscasts. Rain and the much-feared storm surge also didn’t appear to impact much of southeast Texas.
“Significant in some spots,” said Dana Melancon, meteorologist for KFDM-TV in Beaumont. “But nothing that southeast Texas couldn’t handle. And handle it we did.”
Earlier Thursday morning,transformers exploded with showers of sparks, plunging neighborhoods from Port Arthur east to Lake Charles, Louisiana, into darkness as windows shattered, and heavy rains lashed the area as the 25-mile-wide eye moved north at about 15 mph.
Overnight, videos shared by stormchasers and reporters deployed across the area showed portions of building roofs ripped off by the high winds, which also toppled a large RV in Lake Charles. Throughout the night, forecasters warned those who had not evacuated to expect both tornado-force winds and tornadoes being spun off by the hurricane.
– USA TODAY's Rick Jervis from Port Arthur, Texas | 7:30 a.m. CDT
Blown out windows, torn off roofs on Lake Charles buildings
The initial images of Laura's destruction shared on social media show the damage that the storm's powerful winds brought to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Many of the glass windows up the 22-story Capitol One Tower were blown out as glass fell from the building.
At the Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel & Casino, video showed parts of its roof flying off, and another video captured the sound of howling winds from inside the building.
Before the weather reporting station in Lake Charles went offline due to the storm at about 2 a.m. CDT, sustained winds there were measured at 98 mph with gusts of up to 132 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
– Staff report | 8 a.m. CDT
Galveston, Texas, largely spared from Laura's fury
While Galveston was at one point threatened, the Texas city seemingly managed to avoid severe damage after Hurricane Laura veered east.
Flooding was an issue in some parts of the tourism and cruise ship hub, though. Some downtown streets, including historic Strand Street, which is dotted with Victorian buildings that date to the early 1900s, were submerged and impassable.
Seawall Boulevard, which runs parallel to the coastline, appeared clear Thursday morning. That was a change from the view hours earlier when the waters offshore stirred violently as the storm approached. Heavy flooding also was reported early on Stewart Beach and other popular beaches, though water appeared to be on its way to recessing.
– Corpus Christi Caller Times' Chris Ramirez from Galveston, Texas | 6:45 a.m. CDT
Police: Some people in Louisiana town stayed but 'no way to get to them'
While authorities ordered most people in Laura's path to get out of harm's way, police in a Louisiana parish say some are hunkered down and calling for help.
“There are some people still in town and people are calling … but there ain’t no way to get to them,” Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early Thursday from inside a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.
Guillory said he hopes stranded people can be rescued later Thursday but fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could get in the way. Officials said search missions and damage assessments would begin when conditions allow it.
– Associated Press | 6:20 a.m. CDT
Power outage tip: What a coin in a cup can tell you about food safety
Category 4 storm makes landfall near Cameron, Louisiana
Hurricane Laura made landfall just before 1 a.m. local time Thursday as a dangerous Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph.
The storm raced toward the Louisiana coast Wednesday, quickly intensifying with extreme winds just shy of a Category 5 storm.
This visualization shows Laura plowing through the Gulf of Mexico and over the Louisiana coast near Cameron just south of Lake Charles.
– Dinah Voyles Pulver, The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser | 2:13 a.m. CDT
Largest evacuation operation in US amid coronavirus
More than half a million people were ordered to evacuate Tuesday, the largest evacuation in the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Emergency officials with Jefferson County, which includes Port Arthur, staged a number of “hubs” to collect residents and transport them to other areas around Texas, rather than shelter them there, said Allison Getz, a county spokeswoman. A key reason for doing it that way was concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, which makes it hard to shelter large groups of people in one place, she said. Only 15 to 20 people were being placed on buses, instead of the usual 50, she said.
– Rick Jervis | From Wednesday night
Tracking Hurricane Laura🌀: Get the latest info on Laura's path and forecast with USA TODAY's storm tracker.
Contributing: The Associated Press.