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Hurricane Laura slammed southern Louisiana early Thursday as a Category 4 storm, one of the most powerful to strike the Gulf Coast in decades. The storm made landfall at 1 a.m. near Cameron, La., about 35 miles east of the Texas border.

Downtown Lake Charles, La., took a heavy hit, with widespread destruction from Laura’s devastating winds. Roofs were peeled off, buildings were destroyed, and lampposts were tossed into the streets. An industrial plant that makes chlorine-based products nearby was on fire, sending caustic smoke throughout the area and leading to a shelter-in-place order.

The storm, which leaped from a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday to a high-end Category 4 on Wednesday night, packed 150 mph peak winds when it crossed the coast. The storm weakened and was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane Thursday morning as it headed northward, but it still had sustained winds of more than 100 mph.

Heavy rain was predicted to be widespread across the west-central Gulf Coast with five to 10 inches falling over a broad area, and locally up to 18 inches, leading to flash flooding.

The latest developments:
  • Lake Charles, La., had issued mandatory evacuations on Wednesday. There was major damage to buildings in the city’s downtown area, which endured the brunt of the storm’s eyewall.
  • A suspected chemical cloud emanating from an industrial area along the highway has shut down Interstate 10 outside of Lake Charles and has led to a shelter-in-place order in Sulphur, La., where authorities are warning people to stay indoors with their windows closed. Authorities said the fire was at a plant that makes chlorine-based products.
  • Laura’s rate of intensification between Tuesday and Wednesday tied for the fastest on record in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Hurricane Center said storm surge inundation could be “unsurvivable,” affecting areas up 40 miles inland from the coast in southwest Louisiana and that floodwaters may not fully recede for several days after the storm. As of 5 a.m., a surge over 9 feet had been observed in parts of coastal southwest Louisiana.
August 27, 2020 at 6:19 PM EDT

Hurricane Center correctly predicted Laura’s landfall location and time, 87 hours in advance

By Jason Samenow

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast for Laura’s landfall was made on Sunday morning, 87 hours before the storm roared inland, and was within a mile of the actual location in Cameron, La.

The Hurricane Center also accurately predicted the time the storm would cross the coastline: 2 a.m.

The precision forecast, made when the storm was still over Haiti, stunned meteorologists outside the agency.

“The folks at the National Hurricane Center are so d--- good at their job,” tweeted Dakota Smith, a meteorologist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere.

While the forecasters pegged the time and location of landfall, it had less success in predicting the storm’s strength that far in advance. They predicted Laura would come ashore with peak winds of 100 mph, 50 mph too low, and had to play catch-up as the storm strengthened at breakneck speed.

The misfire on the intensity forecast illustrates a well-known gap between its storm track and intensity predictions.

August 27, 2020 at 5:28 PM EDT

‘Cajun Navy’ volunteer reaches Louisiana families whose homes were damaged, destroyed

By Ashley Cusick

LAKE CHARLES, La. — Leonard “Country” Harrison, 49, hit the road toward Cameron Parish, the coastal Louisiana region that bore the brunt of Laura’s damage on Thursday morning. He’s here as a member of the “Cajun Navy” arriving from North Carolina in his high-water truck — nicknamed Goliath — to help anyone he could find.

The road south was littered with debris, and he encountered several people who needed his help.

Florine Richard, 85, stood in front of her Lake Charles home of 42 years, looking over the damage. Multiple trees crashed through her roof, severely damaging the living room, kitchen and bathroom, she said.

Harrison handed Richard a three-day supply of food and several water bottles.

“Sweetheart, look at it this way,” he told her. “It’s just a house. You’re okay, and it’s just a house.”

Harrison, a veteran of three hurricanes who lends his services to those in need, spent Wednesday night in his 10,000-pound truck, awaiting the chance to get out and help. Laura stood out to him as “absolutely” the worst storm he has experienced.

“I’ve never had my truck lifted or moved before,” he said. “Last night, it moved six inches, twice. That was the fastest moving storm I’ve seen, and it had to be the most destructive.”

August 27, 2020 at 4:57 PM EDT

Louisiana officials say Hurricane Laura responsible for at least four deaths

By Brady Dennis

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday afternoon that government officials have learned of at least four deaths related to Hurricane Laura, all of which were linked to trees that fell onto houses.

Edwards said none of the deaths were in extreme southwest Louisiana, where the hurricane came ashore as a powerful Category 4 storm. Instead, they were in Vernon, Jackson and Acadia parishes, all north or northeast of the area where Laura made landfall early Thursday morning.

One of those killed was a 14-year-old girl.

Edwards said most of Louisiana experienced hurricane-force or tropical storm-force winds as Laura moved northward through the state. While there was massive wind damage in coastal areas along Laura’s path from Cameron through Lake Charles, areas far north of the coastline also saw heavy winds that felled trees and utility poles, and shredded rooftops.

Authorities had largely feared the potential of significant storm surge crushing coastal towns in Louisiana and Texas, but the storm tracked further east than expected, meaning not as much Gulf water was pushed northward through the shipping channel that leads to Lake Charles, Edwards said. Much of the heaviest storm surge pushed through wetlands in a largely unpopulated area of Louisiana.

Edwards warned that it is possible more fatalities will be discovered during search and rescue efforts, which are continuing in earnest in Cameron, La., on the edge of the coast, as well as in communities much farther north that were in Laura’s path.

August 27, 2020 at 3:01 PM EDT

Inland areas along Laura’s northward path also saw devastating winds, sustained serious damage

By Marisa Iati

DEQUINCY, La. — Hours after Hurricane Laura barreled through here, trees had crashed across the city, detached roofs lay in the road and drivers carefully crossed downed power lines. Gas station canopies were crumpled. The facade had been torn off a worship center. A family medical clinic was completely destroyed.

The streets were quiet here, except for a few people surveying the damage to their businesses. DeQuincy sits about 30 miles northwest of Lake Charles, and like other inland communities that were in Laura’s path as it charged north toward Arkansas, it took a significant hit.

Marshall Carson stood outside a church where he does maintenance work, inspecting the steeple that had been ripped off the roof. The spire had split in two, and the top end had pierced a car parked outside.

Carson said he stopped by The Pentecostal Church on Thursday after the pastor, who had evacuated, asked him to check it out. Six people who took shelter at the church were uninjured.

Carson said his own home was intact and that he slept there last night despite warnings to evacuate.

“All the houses around me got hit pretty hard,” he said.

August 27, 2020 at 2:44 PM EDT

Trump says he will visit areas hit by Hurricane Laura this weekend

By Felicia Sonmez

President Trump announced at a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Thursday that he plans to tour areas hit by Hurricane Laura this weekend, although he did not provide details.

“We’ll probably be going on Saturday or Sunday. We’ll be heading to Texas and Louisiana, and maybe an additional stop,” Trump said.

He added that he had considered postponing his Thursday night Republican National Convention speech at the White House but decided it wasn’t necessary.

The storm slammed southern Louisiana early Thursday as a Category 4 storm, one of the most powerful to strike the Gulf Coast in decades. The storm made landfall at 1 a.m. near Cameron, La., about 35 miles east of the Texas border.

August 27, 2020 at 2:37 PM EDT

Louisiana chemical fire is at industrial plant that makes chlorine-based products

By Nick Miroff, Steven Mufson and Darryl Fears

Firefighters are battling a dangerous chemical fire in Westlake, La. that sparked after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coastal area, and authorities warn that the smoke could contain chlorine, nitric oxide and other toxins used in industrial and commercial disinfectants and for swimming pool maintenance.

KIK Custom Products confirmed that the fire is burning at a Biolab plant that sits in an industrial park along Interstate 10, which has been closed due to the caustic smoke, which can be extremely dangerous if inhaled.

Westlake, population 4,600, sits next to Lake Charles in coastal Louisiana, which was hit hard by the hurricane as it moved ashore early Thursday morning. The area is home to numerous petrochemical refineries and various chemical plants.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said air quality monitors were stationed near the facility to determine the types of chemicals that are burning. The federal Environmental Protection Agency scrambled an airplane to monitor the situation from the air, said DEQ spokesman Gregory Langley. Firefighters have worked their way into the structure to douse the blaze.

Tom Hoefer, the communications director of Calcasieu Parish’s emergency management office, said he passed directly through the smoke from the chemical fire while surveying hurricane damage on Thursday. Authorities shut down the interstate highway that lines the property and issued a shelter-in-place order for Sulphur, La., warning people to stay inside and close their windows and doors.

Hoefer said the smoke smelled of chlorine. Chlorine gas can be very harmful if inhaled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has been used at times as a weapon of war.

Isabelle Pierre, general counsel for KIK Custom Products, which owns Biolab, confirmed that the facility is the source of the fire. The facility manufactures trichloroisocyanuric acid, chlorinating granules and other specialty blends for products such as the household cleanser Comet and Clorox pool chlorine.

The company issued a statement Thursday afternoon:

“KIK Custom Products confirmed that, as a result of damage sustained during Hurricane Laura, there is currently a fire at one plant located at the company’s Biolab Lake Charles, LA facility. Our priority is the safety and well-being of the Lake Charles community of which we are a part. We are deploying a specialized team to the site, and we are working with first responders, local authorities, and environmental agencies to contain and mitigate the impact of this incident as quickly as possible. The facility had been evacuated when the hurricane was upgraded to category 4 after following shut-down protocols, and all employees are confirmed to be safe at this time. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”

August 27, 2020 at 1:25 PM EDT

‘It was a very, very bad wind storm,’ but flooding was moderate, officials say

By Nick Miroff

Hurricane Laura shredded the trees and roofs of Louisiana’s Lake Charles area and surrounding Calcasieu Parish, but the storm brought little flooding and fewer rescue calls than feared, said Tom Hoefer, communications director of the parish’s emergency management office.

Hoefer said he had not heard reports of injuries or deaths in the parish, which sits just north of the Gulf Coast shoreline and includes hard-hit Lake Charles and Sulphur.

“That’s a good sign, but I can tell you damage is extensive — mainly wind damage,” he said. “It was a very, very bad wind storm.”

Hoefer said the winds of Hurricane Laura, which made landfall early Thursday as a Category 4 storm, were stronger than Hurricane Rita’s in 2005, which also hit Calcasieu Parish. Power lines are down everywhere, he said, and many homes and buildings have suffered roof damage.

August 27, 2020 at 12:44 PM EDT

Laura sweeps north through Louisiana, with Arkansas next in path

By Jason Samenow

Though steadily weakening, Laura held onto hurricane status late Thursday morning, as it dashed through northern Louisiana. Winds had gusted over 85 mph in Alexandria, La., and more than 700,000 customers were without power in Louisiana and Texas.

Winds over 70 mph remained possible in northern Louisiana into Thursday afternoon while winds to tropical-storm-force, over 39 mph, were predicted to streak into Arkansas, as far north as Little Rock through Thursday night. These winds were likely to knock down trees and cause more outages.

Thunderstorms embedded within Laura’s rain bands were likely to rotate in some instances and a tornado watch was in effect until 5 p.m. Thursday for most of Louisiana, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi.

Torrential rainfall, prompting flash flood warnings between Shreveport and Monroe, La., was surging north into Arkansas. From northern Louisiana through much of Arkansas, the National Hurricane Center predicted 4 to 8 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts, through Friday morning.

By late Friday, Laura will probably have weakened to a tropical depression as it dashes across Kentucky. On Saturday, what’s left of the storm will zip through West Virginia and Virginia. Along the way, it may produce pockets of 1 to 3 inches of rain and set off some severe thunderstorms, capable of producing tornadoes just south and east of its path.

August 27, 2020 at 12:26 PM EDT

Suspected chemical cloud closes Interstate 10 near Lake Charles, La.

By Ashley Cusick

LAKE CHARLES, La. — A suspected chemical cloud has caused police to shut down Interstate 10 in Louisiana near Lake Charles, in an area Hurricane Laura struck early Thursday.

The thick gray cloud was pouring from an industrial building just adjacent to Interstate 10, and the cloud was completely obscuring visibility in the surrounding area. Authorities were warning people to stay away.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) tweeted that there is a chemical fire in that area and that residents are advised to “shelter in place until further notice and close your doors and windows.”

The incident appeared to be in an industrial lot just south of the interstate in an area that is home to chemical companies and oil refineries.

August 27, 2020 at 11:45 AM EDT

Heavy damage west of Lake Charles, La.

By Matthew Cappucci

TOOMEY, La. — The force of Hurricane Laura left scenes of destruction the morning after it hit southern Louisiana. On Thursday, industrial buildings lay in ruins in Toomey, La., about 25 miles west of Lake Charles, after multiple truss structures collapsed. The westbound side of Interstate 10 was largely blocked by fallen trees, with only one lane viable, after strong northerly winds toppled trees north to south. Mobile homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. About 15 percent of trees were heavily damaged.

In the town of Sulphur, a cafe or restaurant was destroyed when the north-facing walls caved in. Gas station canopies across the area were toppled or shredded. Tractor-trailers were overturned both on the highway and in parking lots. Windows were shattered in restaurants, and significant roof damage was widespread.

Winds in this area gusted between 110 and 130 mph.

August 27, 2020 at 11:40 AM EDT

Hurricane Laura destroyed the National Weather Service’s Doppler radar in Lake Charles

By Andrew Freedman

It’s not often that a storm is powerful enough to remove a heavy radar unit with a protective dome over it, but the Doppler radar at the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Lake Charles, La., proved no match for Hurricane Laura. Images shared on social media Thursday morning showed the dome and the radar itself completely missing, indicative of extreme winds well above 100 mph when the storm moved through there.

Another radar in the area, in Fort Polk, La., is also out of commission Thursday morning, though it’s not clear it met the same fate. These radars are able to withstand winds of about 134 mph, according to the company behind a popular weather radar app called RadarScope.

One other example of a Weather Service radar being torn off its mounting tower occurred in Puerto Rico, when Category 4 Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. These radars, deployed nationwide, are crucial for supporting weather forecasting, particularly for warning of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The radars sweep the sky for signs of precipitation and can tell meteorologists how heavy it is, which direction it’s moving, and then alert them to the presence of circulations that could form tornadoes.

An NWS spokesman told The Washington Post in 2017 that Hurricane Maria was the only known instance of a hurricane causing such severe damage to a weather radar, making Lake Charles the second such incident.

A new radar unit would cost at least $10 million to purchase and install, according to a 2008 National Research Council report.

The Weather Service forecasters in Lake Charles knew this storm had the potential to flood much of that city, including their office. On Wednesday afternoon, forecasters handed off responsibilities for issuing warnings to a Weather Service office in Brownsville, Tex., as part of a redundancy arrangement in place in case one office has to take shelter or is knocked offline.

August 27, 2020 at 11:29 AM EDT

In some areas not far from landfall, Laura proves to be a relatively 'weak storm’ compared to expectations

By Maria Sacchetti

PORT ARTHUR, Tex. — This low-lying city of 54,000 off the Gulf of Mexico had braced for a terrible storm. Some parked cars and trucks on overpasses or on jacks to lift them away from the flooding that can surge inland for miles.

But the city awakened Thursday to relatively minor damage and power outages. Traffic lights were not working. Dead tree limbs, roof shingles and blown-over signs littered streets and driveways. A billboard on Memorial Boulevard tumbled to the ground.

Three houses caught fire overnight, possibly due to electrical failures, and two were lost. But nobody was home, and there were no injuries, a fire official said.

“That was a weak storm,” said Port Arthur Fire Captain Michael Adaway. “I’ve been in this area my whole life and that storm was nothing.”

Far more damage was reported just to the east, where Hurricane Laura’s eyewall tracked over tiny Cameron, La. and destroyed buildings in Lake Charles, La. The hurricane’s path of devastation tracked northward, as the high winds ripped houses apart as the storm maintained gusts of more than 100 mph on Thursday morning.

A few blocks away from a Port Arthur Fire Station on Woodworth Boulevard, Lenora Cade returned to the tan home with sea-green shutters she rebuilt after Hurricane Harvey destroyed it. That storm washed away most of the photos she had of her son, Keneefe, who had died in 2013 at 46 years old from a heart condition.

Now 70, she said she had prayed that God would not make her go through another flood.

“Thank God,” Cade, a housekeeper at a long-term care facility, said as she returned home to her cats Stevie and Footsie after spending the night in a hotel for safety. “God spared us. He did.”

A shingle sat in her driveway, and a single plank of wood had curled away from her fence. Her roof was drenched in rainwater.

“I was scared,” she said. While relieved, she said the experience and the added stress of the coronavirus had made her consider leaving Port Arthur, where she was born and raised, to join a sister in North Carolina. “ I’m getting tired of it. Other things are coming. That’s the world we live in.”

August 27, 2020 at 11:18 AM EDT

‘Everything around us is devastated,’ says Louisiana woman after storm wrecked her home

By Nick Miroff

Vicky Trahan, who lives about 40 miles north of Lake Charles, La., said her family’s home was destroyed last night as Hurricane Laura passed over the rural area where she and her husband have a small farm.

“The roof was peeling off, the walls were starting to move and the chimney fell off the house,” she said, standing in the wreckage of the family home Thursday morning, where she was trying to salvage papers and personal items. “It was the worst experience of my life."

Trahan said her son-in-law, who lives next door, arrived to rescue her and the other seven adults and children riding out the storm at their home in tiny Singer, La.

Trahan, 69, said she and her husband moved north, away from the Gulf of Mexico, after Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 damaged her home. She said she and her husband moved to the farm to retire.

“We got ourselves a house on a hill to avoid all that,” she said, recalling the flooding from those storms. “This is where we were going to live out our lives.”

Trahan said she was relieved no one in the family was hurt, and most of her animals also survived. But their home and barn were in ruins, she said.

“I don’t know what to do,” Trahan said. “I’ve got water dripping into rooms. The beds are soaked. We’ll just have to salvage what we can.”

Trahan said her family owns an RV park in Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall as a Category 4 storm. She said she has not been able to reach anyone there to find out what happened to the property.

August 27, 2020 at 10:50 AM EDT

Hurricane Laura’s first reported fatality was 14-year-old girl killed by falling tree, Louisiana governor says

By Nick Miroff

A 14-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her family’s home during Hurricane Laura, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) told MSNBC during an interview Thursday, describing the storm’s first reported fatality.

“I suspect that won’t be the last, although I pray that we won’t have any more,” Edwards said.

The governor did not say where the death occurred, but a spokesman for the governor told local media that she lived in Vernon Parish, north of Lake Charles, La.

“It appears that there’s more structural damage from the wind, and a little less flood damage than we had anticipated,” Edwards said.