LAKE CHARLES, La. — The death toll from Hurricane Laura more than doubled Friday to at least 14 as communities began cleaning up along the devastated Louisiana coastline where hundreds of thousands of people were still without power or water — a situation that officials said could persist for weeks or longer.
A day after the Category 4 storm hit, more bodies emerged in the aftermath in Louisiana and neighboring Texas. The dead included five people killed by fallen trees and one person who drowned in a boat. Eight people also died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to unsafe operation of generators, including three inside Texas pool hall, where authorities say the owner had let seven Vietnamese shrimp boat laborers and homeless men take shelter. The other four were in critical condition.
The lack of basic services was grim for thousands of evacuated residents eager to return.
Chad Peterson planned to board up a window and head to Florida. “There’s no power. There’s no water. There’s no utilities,” he said.
Thousands of people who heeded dire warnings and fled the Gulf Coast returned to homes without roofs, roads littered with debris and the likelihood of a harsh recovery that could take months.
Lawrence “Lee” Faulk, came back to a home with no roof in hard-hit Cameron Parish, which was littered with downed power lines.
“We need help,” Faulk said. “We need ice, water, blue tarps — everything that you would associate with the storm, we need it. Like two hours ago.”
Simply driving in Lake Charles, a city of 80,000 residents that sustained some of the worst damage, was a feat. Power lines and trees blocked paths or created one-lane roads that drivers had to navigate with oncoming traffic. Street signs were snapped off their perches or dangled, and no stoplights worked, making it a trust exercise with those sharing the roads.
Mayor Nic Hunter 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. “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.
Caravans of utility trucks were met Friday by thunderstorms in the sizzling heat, complicating recovery efforts.
Forty nursing homes were also relying on generators, and assessments were underway to determine if more than 860 residents in 11 facilities that had been evacuated could return. Water outages remained a major problem in evacuated facilities, the Louisiana Department of Health said.
President Donald Trump planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.
Meanwhile, the hurricane’s remnants threatened to bring flooding and tornadoes to Tennessee 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.
In the storm’s wake, more than 600,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
The Louisiana Department of Health estimated that more than 220,000 people were without water.
“We think there are going to be people who realize relatively quickly that either they can’t stay in their homes or can’t go back to their homes,” said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Restoration of those services could take weeks or months, and full rebuilding could take years.
Ira Lyles returned to find that his downtown Lake Charles salon called The Parlor House survived with little damage, but his home was destroyed.
“It tore the front off, tore the front of the roof off, picked up my camper trailer and hit the side wall, and the side wall buckled and cracked inside,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a wash.”
Edwards called Laura, which packed a top wind speed of 150 mph (241 kph), the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, meaning it surpassed even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.
More than 580,000 coastal residents were put under evacuation as the hurricane gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico. 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 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In Lake Charles, chainsaws buzzed and heavy machinery hauled tree limbs in the front lawn of Stanley and Dominique Hazelton, who rode out the storm on a bathroom floor. A tree punctured the roof just a few feet from where the couple was taking cover.
They regretted staying.
“There’s people without homes,” Stanley Hazelton said. “So it was dumb. We’ll never do it again. We’ll never stay through another hurricane again.”
This story has been updated. The earlier version is below:
11:51 a.m.: Laura's leftovers move east, leaving a disaster in Louisiana
LAKE CHARLES, La. — The remnants of Hurricane Laura unleashed heavy rain and twisters hundreds of miles inland from a path of death and mangled buildings along the Gulf Coast, and forecasters warn of new dangers as the tropical weather blows toward the Eastern Seaboard this weekend.
Flooding and more tornadoes were possible Friday as the leftovers of the once fearsome Category 4 hurricane, now a tropical depression, move eastward. Already, an apparent tornado tore through a church and homes in Arkansas. Forecasters said it could become a tropical storm again when it moves off the mid-Atlantic coast.
More than 750,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas in the storm's wake, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
One of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Laura was blamed for six deaths as it barreled ashore near the Louisiana-Texas state line.
A sense of relief prevailed that Laura was not the annihilating menace forecasters had feared, but a full assessment of the damage could take days.
Entire neighborhoods were submerged and ruined along and near the coast. Twisted sheets of metal and debris, 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."
Finishing search and rescue efforts was a top priority, Edwards said, followed by efforts to find hotel or motel rooms for those unable to stay in their homes. Officials in Texas and Louisiana both sought to avoid traditional mass shelters to avoid spreading covid-19.
Edwards called Laura the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, meaning it surpassed even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.
The hurricane's top wind speed of 150 mph 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. It remained a tropical storm Thursday night, sustaining winds of 40 mph, flooding roads and spawning tornadoes.
Pastor Steve Hinkle surveyed the damage after a tornado gutted his Refuge Church in Lake City, Arkansas: An outdoor pavilion was reduced to rubble. A brick shed was shredded. The fellowship and family life center 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."
The storm crashed ashore in low-lying Louisiana and clobbered Lake Charles, an industrial and casino city of 80,000 people. On Broad Street, many buildings partially collapsed. Windows were blown out, awnings ripped away and trees split in eerily misshapen ways. 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.
Laura also felled a Confederate statue that local officials voted to keep in front of a courthouse just days earlier.
"It looks like 1,000 tornadoes went through here. It's just destruction everywhere," said Brett Geymann, who rode out the storm with three relatives in Moss Bluff, near Lake Charles. He described a roar like a jet engine as Laura passed over his house around 2 a.m.
"There are houses that are totally gone," he said.
The extent of the damage was just coming into focus when a massive plume of smoke began rising from a chemical plant outside Lake Charles. Police said the leak was at a facility run by Biolab, which manufactures chemicals used in household cleaners and chlorine powder for pools. Nearby residents were told to close their doors and windows, and the fire smoldered into the night.
Four people were killed by falling trees in Louisiana, including a 14-year-old girl and a 68-year-old man. A 24-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his residence. Another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, authorities said. No deaths were confirmed in Texas, which Gov. Greg Abbott called "a miracle."
A lower-than-expected storm surge also helped save lives. Edwards said ocean water rose as much as 12 feet rather than the 20 feet that was predicted.
Chevellce Dunn considers herself fortunate. She spent the night huddling on a sofa with her son, daughter and four nieces and nephews as winds rocked their home in Orange, Texas. Now she's without power in the sweltering heat.
"It ain't going to be easy. As long as my kids are fine, I'm fine," Dunn said.
More than 580,000 coastal residents evacuated despite fears of coronavirus infections. It's unclear when their journeys might end. There's no electricity or running water in many places, and the coastal towns of Cameron and Holly Beach were swamped. Restoring essential services could take weeks.
"People who are outside of Lake Charles, thinking about coming back, they need to be really blunt with themselves about the harsh reality of what they're coming back to," Mayor Nic Hunter told NBC's Today show Friday. "I'm sorry about that, but we just got hit with the largest hurricane to hit Louisiana in the last 150 years."
Bucky Millet, 78, of Lake Arthur, Louisiana, considered evacuating but decided because of the coronavirus to ride out the storm with family. He thought the roof of his house would disappear at one point when a small tornado blew the cover off the bed of his pickup.
"You'd hear a crack and a boom and everything shaking," he said.
Laura's winds blew out every living room window in the Lake Charles house where Bethany Agosto huddled in a closet with her sister and two others. "It was like a jigsaw puzzle ... we were on top of each other, just holding each other and crying."
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 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
President Donald Trump planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.