“The good news is, we didn’t have inundation 30 miles inland, as they had predicted, from the storm surge,” Edwards said at a news conference. “But that didn’t mean we didn’t have tremendous devastation down there.”
Although hospitals and nursing homes could use generators to restore power, they couldn’t operate without water, which makes it possible to have air conditioning and to sterilize equipment. Lake Charles, La., Mayor Nic Hunter said that of the city’s six water plants, one was “pulverized” in the storm, two were not working and three were working minimally. In most of the city’s buildings, he said water was coming out of the faucet only in a trickle.
“We have a fraction of the capacity that we normally have,” Hunter said.
Laura touched down early Thursday in Cameron, La., about 35 miles east of the Texas border, as a Category 4 hurricane with wind gusts of up to 150 mph and a peak storm surge of 12 to 21 feet. Officials called it one of the most powerful hurricanes to afflict the U.S. Gulf Coast in decades.
More than 12 inches of rain had fallen in some spots as of Friday, and Laura was expected to deliver heavy storms and powerful winds across the middle of the country and into the Mid-Atlantic states over the weekend.
Some of the hurricane’s worst destruction came in Lake Charles and surrounding cities, where detached roofs lay in the road, gas station canopies were crumpled and some buildings were completely destroyed. Of the 10 storm-related deaths, officials said four were from trees falling on homes, one was a drowning and five resulted from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to use generators during power outages.
Rescue officials continued to look for survivors in hard-hit coastal areas, where winds and storm surge flattened houses, peeled off roofs and left significant flooding. Crews on Friday continued to clear highways made impassible by the storm, and schools postponed classes due to a lack of electricity. Curfews were in effect in several Louisiana parishes and Texas counties, where dangerous driving conditions made it particularly risky to be out in the dark.
More than 910,000 people lost power during the storm, including many in Calcasieu Parish, where public utility officials said outages were likely to last for weeks. Most of the region was also without water, sewage and other necessities on Friday amid damage that officials called “devastating.”
“It’s not a pleasant place to be right now,” Dick Gremillion, Calcasieu Parish director for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told reporters.
Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said his office had responded to 1,660 calls for help and had completed 66 rescue missions for people who had been trapped in their homes. Many residents who evacuated came back to find severe damage.
Jenna Thrash returned Thursday to her home in DeQuincy, La., a city of about 3,000, to find that the back of her family’s carport had blown off, shingles had flown off the house’s roof and the area in front of the family’s shed was flooded. Their house didn’t have power, so she sat in the car with the air conditioning on as she exchanged messages with her insurance company.
“If they call, you need to answer it because this is about our insurance,” Thrash, 30, said out the window to her husband, Josh Thrash, as he fiddled with their backup generator.
“Have them call me,” he replied. “I’m trying to get some air conditioning running.”
The couple had not wanted to evacuate to their cousins’ house in Spring, Tex., Jenna Thrash said. But the path of the storm was uncertain, and they worried about the safety of their sons, ages 12 and 7.
Thrash said her older son has a rare genetic condition that puts him at high risk for covid-19. She had only taken him out of the house twice during the pandemic before this week, and she was nervous about evacuating.
The couple disassembled their son’s new wheelchair before they left, but it didn’t fit in the car. Neither did much of his other medical equipment, Thrash said, so the family had to leave without it. They drove straight to their relatives’ home to avoid potentially contracting the virus at a rest stop.
Emergency alerts lit up Thrash’s phone throughout Wednesday night. When the family woke up, Thrash said she used a walkie-talkie phone app to connect with neighbors who drove by their house and told them about the damage.
“It’s going to take awhile, I think, to get fully back to normal,” Thrash said.
The family had already endured hardships during the coronavirus pandemic: Josh Thrash, 33, said he was temporarily laid off from his job at a power plant and has yet to be rehired. The family didn’t qualify for food stamps, Jenna Thrash said, so they’re getting by on her husband’s unemployment checks.
She said it comforts her that DeQuincy, where she has lived her whole life, is a tightknit community of people who band together to help each other. Her Baptist faith is also a source of strength. When the family forgot their Bible while evacuating, Thrash said they found another way to pray.
“That’s probably the reason our house didn’t get as much damage,” she said. “Because I prayed over every piece of that house.”
Aerial footage showed major damage to homes in Cameron Parish, near where Hurricane Laura came ashore with heavy winds and its crushing storm surge. Much of the southern end of the parish remained inaccessible by road or boat on Thursday and Friday.
James “Jimmy” Clark, 45, of Bell City, had his shop leveled in the hurricane, and there was fishing equipment, camouflage gear, and a big green boat sitting among the rubble.
As a crew began clearing the way to remove the boat and hitch it to a truck so members of the Cajun Navy could try to use it for rescues and recovery, Clark explained to his wife what was going on: “They got people stranded down there,” he said. “They need to get out.”
The Clarks’ home, which sits in front of the destroyed shop, was missing much of its siding and pieces of the roof.
“It’s totaled,” Clark said. “All of the ceilings are hanging down, and the water just poured inside.”
Dean Jackson, 54, tried to shelter in Clark’s shop for the storm. Jackson lives in a mobile home on the Clarks’ property, but he was worried it would not be safe during Laura’s winds.
“I’ve ridden many of ’em out,” Jackson said, noting that the arrival of Hurricane Laura in the middle of the night was “scary.”
“I started here, but then the weather got bad,” he said. “I moved when we lost the front roll-up door to the shop.” Jackson jumped in his pickup truck and fled to a brick house down the street.
Jackson’s mobile home flipped on its side during the storm.
Though Jackson was one of the residents who opted to stay, he said Cameron Parish officials contacted residents in advance of the storm to gather a solid tally of who planned to stay and who planned to go.
“Most people I know left,” Jackson said. “I guess there were only like 150 people in the whole parish who stayed for Laura. Well 149 people, plus me.”
Edwards said the death toll could climb as authorities make their way through the parish and inspect homes, some of which slid off their foundations or were crushed into debris piles.
Laura was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it moved north through Louisiana and into Arkansas, where it still carried heavy winds and dropped substantial rain. The storm tore a path through Louisiana, downing trees and destroying homes well inland, and Edwards said much of the state experienced tropical storm-force winds on Thursday.
On Saturday, the remnants of the former hurricane are expected to zip through the Washington region, bringing rain and likely including a period with heavy storms that could contain strong winds and perhaps an isolated tornado before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Cusick reported from Bell City, La. Andrew Freedman, Ian Livingston and Jason Samenow in Washington contributed to this report.