Now the areas hit hardest by the storm are dealing with dangerous levels of heat and humidity that could last several more days, according to the National Weather Service. One extreme weather event layered atop another makes the region’s arduous recovery process even more difficult. Many residents lack air conditioning and running water while the stifling heat, among the most lethal weather hazards, is unrelenting.
The absence of basic services amid a punishing heat wave is made even more daunting by the coronavirus, which is keeping many residents at home or in shelters. Louisiana has seen 661 new cases in the past week alone, and the hurricane has disrupted testing efforts. Community tests are “at a low point,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said during a news conference.
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Tuesday for much of the area battered by Laura in southwest Louisiana and eastern Texas, warning that the combination of heat and humidity to make it feel like 105 to 109 degrees.
On Monday, these same areas were under an excessive heat warning, where the Weather Service cautioned the heat and humidity would create a “dangerous situation in which illnesses are likely.” Heat index values reached about 110 degrees in Lake Charles, La., and Port Arthur, Tex.
Southwestern Louisiana residents described the conditions as unbearable.
“It’s terrible right now. I’m on my third shirt today,” said Brandon Harrington, 39. “It was 92 degrees outside at 10:30 this morning.”
Harrington‘s home in Calcasieu Parish was destroyed by Laura’s winds. When he isn’t working to clean up the rubble, he feels lucky to be crashing at a house with a generator.
Others don’t have that option.
“There’s a man down the road from me who lives in a tent right now. He had two homes, and he lost both of them,” Harrington said.
“Him and his girlfriend came and sat in our air conditioning for a few hours yesterday. I had a bunch of fans, so I gave him those, and he put them inside his tent to keep it cool.”
Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States in some years, and those without access to air conditioning are most vulnerable, especially older adults, those with preexisting medical conditions and the socially isolated.
The widespread power outages in extreme southwestern Louisiana and parts of Texas along the Louisiana border mean limited access to air conditioning.
In Cameron Parish, La., 1,966 out of 2,010 customers lacked power Tuesday morning. In Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles, 102,929 out of 104,868 customers were in the dark.
“The elevated heat index values will be particularly acute for areas still challenged by power outages,” the Weather Service website for the area around Lake Charles indicated.
Some residents were relying on generators, which can create a hazard if improperly installed. Eight people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the hurricane’s wake.
For many in southwestern Louisiana, a break from the heat has proved nearly impossible after the hurricane. Hotel rooms were few. Generators can be costly, and even those who could afford them were struggling to do so Monday.
“You try to find one here, and there’s nothing,” said Tommy Todd, 57.
A friend of Todd’s in Dallas ultimately drove more than five hours to deliver a generator to Todd’s Holmwood house, about 10 miles southeast of Lake Charles. He is glad to have at least a partial reprieve from the heat, especially as he works to rebuild his home.
“Right now, it’s just very humid. You sweat to the maximum,” he said. “You get outside and sweat fills your shoes up with water. And that’s when you’re walking, much less trying to pick up wood and do all this other work.”
Hydration is also critical for limiting heat stress. According to a briefing for Federal Emergency Management Agency senior officials obtained by The Washington Post, inoperable drinking facilities affected more than 140,000 customers in Louisiana and more than 12,000 in Texas as of midday Monday.
The sweltering conditions in the hurricane zone are part of a heat wave affecting Texas and Louisiana that is bringing historically high temperatures. The heat spread over Texas on Friday, with most of the state enduring heat index values above 100 degrees, and then moved into Louisiana over the weekend. On Saturday, Dallas set a record high of 106 degrees.
On Monday, humidity levels were oppressive, with dew points, an indicator of humidity, climbing above 80 degrees in parts of southwestern Louisiana. Dew points over 70 degrees are considered uncomfortably humid. Anything above 80 is difficult to tolerate.
In Galveston, the low temperature of 87 degrees Monday morning marked the warmest such reading ever recorded. On Tuesday, the low temperature was also 87.
Houston Bush and Hobby airports also appeared to set records for their warmest low temperatures on Tuesday, dropping to only 84 degrees.
The intensity of the heat and humidity is forecast to ease slightly over the next several days. Even into the weekend, heat index values are expected to top 100 degrees in the hurricane-ravaged zone.
Forecasters are looking ahead to the middle of next week when a “significant cold front” may drop all the way to the Gulf Coast for the possibility of relief. “Though this may bring more rain chances, any cooling in would certainly be welcomed,” the Weather Service wrote.
Scientists have found climate change, the result of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is making heat waves worse while increasing the frequency of hurricanes that rapidly intensify over the ocean. This would suggest these overlapping hazards may become even more common in the future as the climate continues warming.
Andrew Freedman and Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.