Death toll from Hurricane Laura’s destruction rises to 11

Hundreds of thousands of people across Louisiana were still without power or water Friday, a day after Laura sawed a devastating path through the state, killing at least 11 people, and officials warned that basic services could be knocked out for weeks or longer along parts of the Gulf Coast.

The death toll rose after authorities reported that a Texas man was killed when the Category 4 hurricane sent a tree crashing into his home near the Louisiana border. Four other people, all in one residence, died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator. Six deaths had been previously reported Thursday in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, for thousands of evacuated residents eager to return, the outlook was grim.

“We need help,” said Lawrence Faulk, 57, who returned to a home with no roof in hard-hit Cameron Parish, which was littered with downed power lines. “We need ice, water, blue tarps — everything that you would associate with the storm, we need it. Like two hours ago.”

Tornadoes were reported in Arkansas and Mississippi as the storm, now a tropical depression, drifted north. Forecasters warned that the system could strengthen into a tropical storm again upon returning to the Atlantic Ocean this weekend.

More than 600,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas in the storm’s wake, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.

An Auto Zone auto parts store is seen damaged with its roof blown off in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, La. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles, La., cautioned that there was no timetable for restoring electricity and that water-treatment plants “took a beating,” resulting in barely a trickle of water coming out of most faucets in the city of 80,000 people.

“If you come back to Lake Charles to stay, make sure you understand the above reality and are prepared to live in it for many days, probably weeks,” Hunter wrote on Facebook.

“‘Look and Leave’ truly is the best option for many,” he added.

The Louisiana Department of Health estimated that more than 220,000 people were without water statewide. Restoration of basic services could take weeks or months, and full rebuilding could take years.

Several hospitals were evacuating critical patients to other facilities because of water and power issues, the state health department said. Other hospitals were operating on intermittent generator power.

Forty nursing homes also relied on generators, and assessments were underway to determine if more than 860 residents in 11 facilities that had been evacuated could return. 

Entire neighbourhoods were submerged and ruined along and near the coast. Twisted sheets of metal and debris, and downed trees and power lines littered nearly every street. Caravans of utility trucks were met Friday by thunderstorms in the sizzling heat, complicating recovery efforts.

“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage.”

‘We’re blessed’

The hurricane’s top wind speed of 241 km/h put it among the strongest systems on record in the U.S. Not until 11 hours after landfall did Laura finally lose hurricane status as it plowed north and thrashed Arkansas, sustaining winds of 65 km/h while flooding roads and spawning tornadoes.

Pastor Steve Hinkle surveyed the damage after a tornado gutted his Refuge Church in Lake City, Ark.: An outdoor pavilion was reduced to rubble. A brick shed was shredded. The fellowship and family life centre was a tangle of bent metal beams. Yellow insulation littered the churchyard.

“It skipped right over the house and hit every other building that the church has other than us,” said Hinkle, who huddled with his family in the parsonage bathroom after they saw transformers blow out in the distance. “We’re blessed.”

Meanwhile, Laura’s remnants delivered heavy rain and strong winds to Memphis, Tenn., and knocked out electricity. Flash-flood watches were in effect throughout western Tennessee.

Back in Lake Charles, many buildings had partially collapsed on Broad Street. Windows were blown out, awnings ripped away and trees split. A floating casino came unmoored and hit a bridge, and small planes were thrown atop each other at the airport. A television station’s tower toppled.

A Confederate statue in front of a courthouse that local officials had voted to keep in place just days earlier was knocked down by Laura.

Bucky Millet, 78, of Lake Arthur, La., considered heeding an evacuation order but decided because of the coronavirus to ride out the storm with family. A small tornado blew the cover off the bed of his pickup. That made him think the roof of his house was next.

“You’d hear a crack and a boom and everything shaking,” he said.

Lake Charles resident Shirley Andrus on Friday looks into her vehicle, crushed by a fallen tree as Hurricane Laura passed through the area the previous day. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the U.S. this year, setting a new record for U.S. landfalls by the end of August. Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.

More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to evacuate as the hurricane gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Donald Trump planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.

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