The hurricane was the strongest to hit Louisiana ever, the governor said nearly 700,000 people are estimated to be without power across Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, as leaders in some communities battered by Hurricane Laura are warning it could take weeks for life to return to anything resembling normalcy.
The developments came as President Trump is planning to head to the Gulf Coast this weekend to survey the damage inflicted by Laura, which made landfall early Thursday with top winds of 150 mph putting it among the strongest systems on record in the U.S.
“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.”
As of midday Friday, PowerOutage.us, a website tracking electrical disruptions across America, estimated over 500,000 customers without power in Louisiana, 125,000 in Texas and 37,000 in Arkansas.
The storm has now weakened to a tropical depression and is moving east, with current maximum sustained winds of 30 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. But flooding and the risk of tornadoes remain possible in the region Friday, its forecasters are warning.
And heavy rain, strong winds and the risk of isolated severe storms will continue along its path until it exits the East Coast on Sunday.
Edwards said search-and-rescue efforts were one of the top priorities at this moment, followed by efforts to find hotel or motel rooms for people unable to stay in their homes.
Officials in Texas and Louisiana have been seeking to avoid traditional mass shelters to avoid spreading the coronavirus which is presenting a new challenge for disaster recovery planning this hurricane season.
Laura, so far, has been blamed for six deaths in Louisiana.
Falling trees killed at least four people, 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, while another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, investigators said.
Edwards called Laura the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, surpassing Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it slammed the coast in 2005.
The full assessment of the damage is expected to take days – but entire neighbourhoods were submerged and ruined along the Texas-Louisiana coast.
In some, twisted sheets of metal and debris, downed trees and power lines littered nearly every street, The Associated Press reported. Caravans of utility trucks were met Friday by thunderstorms in the sizzling heat, complicating recovery efforts.