The most intense hurricane to hit Louisiana in more than a century has left at least six people dead, hundreds of thousands of people without power and an untold number of homes and buildings in ruins.
Laura, which was downgraded to a tropical storm Thursday after making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, was expected to weaken to a tropical depression overnight as it moves across Arkansas, the National Hurricane Center said.
“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely based on the forecast we had last night,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Thursday. “But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage. We have thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens whose lives are upside down.”
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health said that three of the six deaths occurred in two coastal parishes — Acadia and Calcasieu. Three other people died in the eastern and northern part of the state. Officials attributed four of the deaths to falling trees.
A 24-year-old man also died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator, the department said. Another person who was in a boat during the storm drowned.
The storm caused serious destruction. On the Calcasieu River, the Lake Charles Isle of Capri Casino Barge broke free of its moorings and slammed into a bridge along Interstate 10, the highway that connects Houston and New Orleans.
A few miles away, a fire at a chemical manufacturing plant in the city of Westlake prompted a shelter-in-place advisory after a giant plume of smoke rose into the sky. The fire at the BioLab plant, which makes household cleaners, was burning chlorine.
No injuries or deaths have been reported at the plant or casino.
In the city of Lake Charles, population roughly 78,000, images of a major financial building, the Capital One Tower, showed dozens of windows that had been blown out. Meteorology student Levi Newell, 20, who documented the storm in the city overnight, told NBC News that he saw sections of drywall and roofs whipping through town.
“Lake Charles will look very different when the sun rises,” Newell tweeted. “Absolute devastation.”
In the nearby community of Moss Bluff, Brett Geymann told the Associated Press that Laura sounded like a jet engine when it passed over his house at 2 a.m. He compared the storm’s destruction to a thousand tornadoes.
“There are houses that are totally gone,” he said.
As of 7 p.m. C.T., nearly 540,000 customers were without electricity, according to PowerOutage.us, a site that tracks, records, and aggregates power outages across the U.S. The Louisiana Department of Health estimated that another 220,000 people were without drinking water.
Still, the potentially catastrophic 15 to 20 foot storm surge that the National Hurricane Center had predicted appeared to remain several feet lower. Forecasters attributed this in part to timing — Laura made landfall when the tide had begun to recede — and because the storm shifted east slightly, preventing a direct hit on Lake Charles.
In Texas, where nearly 300,000 customers were without power, according to PowerOutage.us, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that the state “dodged a bullet.”
“When you consider the magnitude of the damage that could have occurred here, we dodged a bullet,” Abbott said. “If we make it through a Category 4 hurricane that ripped through the coastline all the way up through the Texarkana area, and we have been able to have minimal or perhaps no loss of life — that’s a miracle.”