Hurricane Laura Live Updates The latest news and updates on the major hurricane threatening communities in coastal Texas and Louisiana.

Hurricane Laura Live Updates

Latest News And Updates On The Gulf Coast Storm

President Trump listens to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, as he tours damage from Hurricane Laura, in Lake Charles, La. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

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Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump listens to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, as he tours damage from Hurricane Laura, in Lake Charles, La.

Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump visited Louisiana and Texas on Saturday afternoon to survey damage caused by Hurricane Laura. The storm killed at least 14 people and caused as much as $12 billion in damage.

Air Force One first touched down in Lake Charles, La., to scenes of debris, downed trees and badly damaged buildings and homes. Trump deplaned wearing a red had that said "USA" on the front, and "TRUMP" on the back. He was not wearing a mask.

After a tour of some of the hardest hit neighborhoods, the president spoke to first responders, local leaders, FEMA and DHS officals and members of the press.

"This is some devastation," he said to the assembled crowd, asking Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards how many people affected had insurance. The governor responded that about 50% did.

"I'm here to support the great people of Louisiana, it's been a tremendous state for me. I love the people," Trump said. "One thing I know about this state, they rebuild it fast, there's no problem. And we'll supply what we have to supply."

He said FEMA has delivered 2.6 million liters of water and 1.4 million meals to the area so far, and that local officials are working hard to restore water and power to hundreds of thousands of households.

While Trump did note that storms are more frequent and stronger than those decades ago, he did not directly connect that to climate change when asked, saying this area has always been prone to storms.

Scientists say that hurricanes are more likely to be larger and more powerful when they form over hotter ocean water. Climate change is causing global sea surface temperatures to rise.

"This was a tremendously powerful storm," he said. "In fact, when it came in it was actually much bigger than Katrina, I would say, Katrina being somewhat of a landmark."

Saturday is the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm and devastated New Orleans. Hurricane Laura was a Category 4 storm when it hit the Gulf Coast. Katrina ranks not only the costliest-ever U.S. hurricane, but as the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, according to NOAA. The storm killed 1,836 people, left millions homeless and caused an estimated $160 billion in damage.

Noting the anniversary, President Trump stressed that Louisiana would rebuild after this disaster too.

"You came together and you rebuilt. America helped," he said. "And here we are today, and you're going to have this situation taken of very, very quickly."

Gov. Edwards said that although Hurricane Laura did not cause as much damage as forecasts originally predicted, the storm left an incredible mark on the state.

"With Katrina, people heard more about it because the levees broke," he said. "But this is as bad as I've ever seen it, folks."

The president then departed for Orange, Texas, another area hit hard by the hurricane earlier this week, where he was met with a round table of members of his own administration, members of Congress and local public officials.

He began the briefing by noting the damage to Louisiana, saying the state "went through something pretty bad."

"I don't think that you got anything like that, so that's good," Trump said of the damage Texas faced in comparison to Louisiana.

"In many ways we had a blessing with this hurricane in that it could have been much, much worse," Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said, adding that while the damage was profound, it was not as extreme as the damage done to Louisiana.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that the state sustained less damage than expected. Thousands of Texans lost power, and at least four people died in Texas from the storm, according to reports.

Trump was asked, again, in Texas about the connection of climate change to the hurricane. "We've had tremendous storms in Texas for many decades and for many centuries and that's the way it is," he said. "We handle them as they come. All I can do is handle them as they come and that's what we do and nobody has ever done a better job of it."

Lake Charles, La., was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Laura earlier this week. Residents have just started returning to survey the damage. Aubri Juhasz/WNNO hide caption

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Aubri Juhasz/WNNO

Lake Charles, La., was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Laura earlier this week. Residents have just started returning to survey the damage.

Aubri Juhasz/WNNO

After pummeling the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Laura has been downgraded several levels to what's called a remnant low, moving through Arkansas and into the Mid-Atlantic. But even in its weakened state, the storm continues to cause significant damage, with many areas now bracing for heavy rainfall as Laura makes its way toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Much of Arkansas was affected on Friday, with heavy rain and high winds reported throughout the state. The storm entered the state Thursday night and brought winds of up to 55 mph before eventually weakening.

Multiple tornadoes touched down, leaving extensive damage to homes and buildings in the northeastern corner of Arkansas. More than 5 inches of rain were reported in southern areas of the state. Tens of thousands were left without power as the strong winds downed trees and power lines.

The most severe damage from the storm remains in Louisiana and eastern Texas, where Hurricane Laura made landfall and ravaged the coasts. At least 14 deaths have been attributed to the storm, according to reports. At its peak, Laura was a Category 4 storm, one of the most powerful to hit the area in decades, bringing winds as high as 150 mph and over 9 feet of storm surge in some places.

In Louisiana, hundreds of thousands were left without water and power as officials in the state scramble to fix downed lines, broken pipes and restore water pressure. Over 400,000 homes and buildings were still without power as of Saturday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

In the Louisiana city of Lake Charles, one of the hardest-hit areas, residents have started to return. NPR member station WNNO reports that many are finding damage to be haphazard, with some buildings completely destroyed while others escaped untouched.

Lake Charles resident Austin Thorne, 24, spoke to WNNO as he helped clear tree branches off homes. He said officials have been asking residents to stay away, at least for now.

Thorne said that's a hard ask when it's your friends and neighbors who need help.

"They're saying, 'Look and leave,' " he said, "but I know a lot of folks who are hooking up a window unit with a generator, and they're planning on staying, doing whatever they can and just trying to get everybody back on their feet as soon as possible."

While the massive storm surge — and resulting damage — was nowhere near as bad as predicted, officials say it will take days to fully assess the aftermath, as more remote areas still remain inaccessible.

President Trump is scheduled to visit some of the hardest-hit areas in Louisiana and Texas, including Lake Charles, on Saturday. Trump has approved emergency declarations for Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas to assist with response to the storm.

Meanwhile, Laura continues to move through the Mid-Atlantic, bringing heavy rainfall through several states on Saturday, but it is losing much of its strength and severity in the process.

A home damaged by Hurricane Laura is seen Friday in Hackberry, La. Damage estimates from the storm range from around $4 billion to $12 billion. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

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David J. Phillip/AP

A home damaged by Hurricane Laura is seen Friday in Hackberry, La. Damage estimates from the storm range from around $4 billion to $12 billion.

David J. Phillip/AP

Hurricane Laura unleashed terrible winds on the Louisiana coast, but its effects are "looking relatively tame from an economic perspective" – especially when compared with other powerful storms, according to an early analysis by Moody's Analytics.

Laura is blamed for at least 10 deaths, including five people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning — at least one case involving the use of a generator without proper ventilation. Four people died from trees falling on homes, Gov. John Bel Edwards said. And a man drowned after the boat he was on sank, NPR member station WWNO reported.

The storm is estimated to have caused anywhere from $4 billion to $12 billion in damages to Louisiana and Texas. While Laura showed a staggering amount of power, its damage tally isn't likely to come close to other strong storms such as hurricanes Katrina and Harvey — the two costliest storms in U.S. history.

Katrina caused an estimated $160 billion worth of damage in 2005; Harvey caused $125 billion in damages in 2017.

A key reason for Laura's smaller price tag is that while the hurricane came ashore with 150-mph winds — crashing large trees into houses, ripping roofs off buildings and tossing vehicles around – it avoided densely populated areas such as Houston and New Orleans.

Laura did not stall or hover, which can sharply increase rainfall totals in a given area. It also failed to send a catastrophic storm surge inland. If not for those factors, officials and analysts said, things could have been far worse.

"Nine to 12 feet of storm surge is still a lot of storm surge," Edwards said Thursday as state officials took stock of the damage.

Forecasters had warned of a surge up to 20 feet, but Laura's center never tracked westward to pull water up the Calcasieu Ship Channel – a lucky break that the governor said "helped tremendously" in reducing the surge.

The lower range of the damage estimate come from Moody's Analytics, where economist Adam Kamins noted that similar hurricanes "have carried a property damage-related price tag that is typically three to five times higher than that associated with lost output."

Because the preliminary price tag of lost output is being estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion, Kamins' overall damage estimate ranged from around $4 billion to $7 billion.

A slightly higher estimate came from real estate tracking firm CoreLogic, which reported that insured losses for residential and commercial properties in Louisiana and Texas "are estimated to be between $8 billion and $12 billion."

Storm surge-related losses make up only a small fraction of the total, the firm said.

When Laura hit Louisiana and Texas, it exposed more than 625,000 residential properties to tropical storm-force conditions or worse, CoreLogic said. But it reported that only about 10,000 of those properties faced winds of a Category 3 storm or higher, thanks to Laura weakening as it moved inland.

Along the hard-hit parts of the coast, part of the economic fallout from the storm will only materialize over time.

Noting that natural disasters often cause a sudden spike in mortgage delinquencies, CoreLogic said that its analysis suggested that "Hurricane Laura will add to the economic hardship families are already experiencing during the pandemic."

Home mortgage delinquency rates were already notably above the national average on both sides of the Texas-Louisiana border in the metropolitan areas of Beaumont, Texas, (9.3%) and Lake Charles, La., (9.5%), CoreLogic said.

August 28

As Hurricane Evacuees In Texas Return Home, Experts Worry About Spread Of Coronavirus

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After evacuating to cities like San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, coastal Texas residents are making their way back home in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Now there are worries that both evacuations and storm damage could potentially increase COVID-19 numbers in the state.

As of Friday, Houston had seen three straight days of fewer than 100 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, for the first time in two months. Daily new cases are on a rough downward trend. While the city isn't yet in the clear — the Texas Medical Center tracks three metrics to determine if the virus is under control, and not one of those benchmarks has been met — health officials say the spread of the virus in the region is slowing down.

But ahead of the storm, counties in the Greater Houston area closed COVID-19 testing sites. And those interruptions could last longer depending on any storm damage, which would then slow down efforts to control the virus, according to Dr. Stacey Rose, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.

Despite precautions by officials to enforce social distancing among evacuees — housing people in hotel rooms instead of large arenas, and filling buses at half capacity — moving large groups of people during evacuation could lead to a spread.

"We have seen a spike in coronavirus cases after large gatherings," Rose said. "I think, unfortunately, sometimes that's part of those evacuation plans: people have to be in close contact."

Hurricane Laura Witness: 'The Wind Just Tore Everything Up'

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Buildings and homes were damaged after Hurricane Laura made landfall near Lake Charles, La., on Thursday. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

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David J. Phillip/AP

Buildings and homes were damaged after Hurricane Laura made landfall near Lake Charles, La., on Thursday.

David J. Phillip/AP

Emergency crews, utility workers and residents are mourning over the damage and cleaning up the mess Hurricane Laura made in southwest Louisiana. The storm — whose 150-mph winds tie for the strongest to ever hit the state — wrought destruction on a broad scale, leveling warehouses and crashing trees through roofs.

Residents are finding telephone poles and large trees strewn across streets. In Iowa, a small town a few miles east of Lake Charles on Interstate 10, the hurricane smashed Fire Station No. 1.

"It tore the brick off, it tore the roof off, it lifted the truck by its roof. I mean, it tore everything. I have a skylight in my truck right now," said Scooter Lewis, chief of the volunteer fire department, in an interview with NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

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At a nearby mobile home park, Greg Lewis rode out the storm in his double-wide, staying behind after his wife went to a motel — a mistake, he now says.

As the Category 4 hurricane brought its furious winds ashore at about 1 a.m., Lewis crouched down behind his brick steps.

"It was the noisiest I have ever heard in my life, and it never quit," Lewis tells Goodwyn, adding that he could hear tornadoes in the midst of the storm's howling winds. He regretted staying behind, Lewis said.

"Every minute. Every minute. I won't do it again."

Another resident says her mobile home moved like a roller coaster in the intense winds.

Hurricane Laura wrecked part of a Market Basket grocery in Lake Charles. Damages from the storm are expected to run in the billions of dollars. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hurricane Laura wrecked part of a Market Basket grocery in Lake Charles. Damages from the storm are expected to run in the billions of dollars.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

South of Lake Charles, Patrick Bright spent the night at his father's house, and he says the structure started shaking as the storm hit. Then, they felt the roof get pulled off — and water started coming into the house.

It was very different, he said, from previous strong hurricanes that hit the area.

"I was here for a little bit of Rita" and its massive floodwaters in 2005, Bright said. He added: "This time it's more, as you can see, the wind just tore everything up."

Laura's remnants are now moving across the mid-Mississippi Valley, bringing rain and the chance of tornadoes. As Lake Charles and surrounding areas take stock and clear out the damage, forecasters say strong thunderstorms will hit the region Friday, bringing more heavy rain, pea-sized hail and winds up to 30 mph.

A fallen tree limb in the front yard of a house in Lake Charles, La., after Hurricane Laura made landfall on Thursday. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A fallen tree limb in the front yard of a house in Lake Charles, La., after Hurricane Laura made landfall on Thursday.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the small town of Bell City, La., trees were down everywhere on Thursday morning.

And just about wherever there was a felled tree, there was someone with a chainsaw getting it out of the way.

Dylan Guidry, who lives in the small town of Lake Arthur about 20 miles east, and his brother, were among those cutting down trees.

They were moving them "out of the way so people had a path to get through the roads, get to where they needed to go to help family and residents," says Guidry.

The volunteers are cleaning up in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, which hit the coast of Louisiana early Thursday. Packing winds of 150 mph, the Category 4 storm is one of the most powerful storms in decades to hit the area.

"I've been living here for a long time," Guidry said. "I've never, ever in my life witnessed anything like that before."

Guidry described the night spent waiting out the storm. "We stayed up all night, watched the news, sat on the porch, watched out for tornadoes," he says.

As the hurricane made landfall, things took a turn. "The wind was whipping, glass breaking, roofs ripping apart all around us. It was bad," he adds.

Dana Lavergne spent the night at her son's house in Bell City. She says it was sturdier than the trailer she'd been living in with another son in Hayes.

"The wind was crazy," she says. "I've never experienced anything so powerful."

She and her family also joined the cleanup effort, cutting up trees and clearing them off the road. All of her son's oak trees were damaged.

"We're just lucky that the house stayed," she said. "We consider ourselves lucky."

A trailer is left damaged and debris scattered Thursday in Holly Beach, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

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Eric Thayer/Getty Images

A trailer is left damaged and debris scattered Thursday in Holly Beach, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.

Eric Thayer/Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday that while the impact of Hurricane Laura was less catastrophic than initially predicted, the storm significantly damaged many communities and remains a threat to parts of several Southern states still in its path.

FEMA officials said on a call with reporters that it is working to assess the damage and distribute aid to people in need — while taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hurricane Laura slammed into the Texas-Louisiana border early Thursday as a Category 4 storm, bringing extreme winds and high waters to coastal and inland communities, particularly in Louisiana. The storm flooded roadways, scattered debris, sent thousands of people scrambling to shelters and left hundreds of thousands of customers without power.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Goldstein said that Louisiana was "fortunate in one way but less fortunate in another" as the state faced a smaller-than-expected storm surge but some of the strongest winds in recent memory.

That's because the center of the storm was slightly east of where forecasters had predicted. Goldstein said if it had been just 10 to 12 miles farther west, St. Charles, La., would have had "extremely serious inundation."

MaryAnn Tierney, a FEMA administrator on the ground in southwest Louisiana, stressed that it could be another day or so until officials get a full picture of the destruction and decide how best to support affected communities.

More than 10,000 people sought shelter Wednesday in Texas and Louisiana, according to Charley English, a national emergency management liaison for the American Red Cross. He said the vast majority of those people took shelter in hotel rooms and college dormitories instead of mass shelters to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Officials said responders are working on the ground to distribute food, water and other supplies. FEMA has also deployed several types of federal response teams, including search and rescue, to help with relief efforts in parts of Texas and Louisiana.

David Bibo, FEMA acting associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, said first responders are wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands frequently and following other public health guidance to protect themselves and the people they are assisting.

The process of administering that relief has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

FEMA is modifying some of its practices to assess damage in light of the pandemic. Bibo said responders are using photographs and phone calls to get a sense of damage rather than sending an in-person inspector, and delivering aid with minimal contact.

There will likely be additional requests for federal assistance to support both individuals and public infrastructure as communities rebuild, Bibo said.

Amid a worse than average hurricane season, a pandemic and a slew of natural disasters in the West and Midwest, some lawmakers have questioned whether FEMA's resources may be enough — especially after President Trump cut billions of dollars from its disaster fund to help extend some COVID-19 unemployment benefits earlier this summer.

When asked how the pandemic is affecting relief funding, officials on the call said FEMA has "sufficient resources to handle the response to Hurricane Laura as well as deliver other assistance that has been authorized and directed by the president."

Trump has approved emergency declarations for Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas to assist with hurricane response.

Laura weakened to a tropical storm Thursday afternoon, but officials warn the threat is not over.

Forecasters said the storm will veer to the right, moving over northeast Arkansas by Friday morning and gaining speed into Kentucky on Friday evening. Goldstein said it will move across the Central Appalachians on Saturday morning as a nontropical system on its way toward the Mid-Atlantic.

Goldstein warned of heavy rainfall at the center of the storm, which could lead to isolated flash flooding until it reaches post-tropical status.

And Bibo urged people in the Tennessee and Lower Ohio valleys to heed the instructions of local officials as Laura heads their way.

As of 8 p.m. ET, the storm was about 35 miles south of Little Rock, Ark., with noticeably weakened sustained winds of 40 mph. The National Hurricane Center said it is drenching parts of that state with flooding and rainfall. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for portions of southern and central Arkansas.

Parnell McKay, the civil defense director of Pass Christian, Miss., looks over the town's main business district on Aug. 23, 1969 after Hurricane Camille passed through. Jack Thornell/AP hide caption

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Jack Thornell/AP

Parnell McKay, the civil defense director of Pass Christian, Miss., looks over the town's main business district on Aug. 23, 1969 after Hurricane Camille passed through.

Jack Thornell/AP

Hurricane Laura, which hit the coast of Louisiana early Thursday as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph, is one of the most powerful storms in decades to hit the area.

How does it compare to other Gulf Coast hurricanes? That depends on how you define the question and how far back you go. Using 1900 as a starting point, here's a look at some of the most intense and destructive hurricanes in the last 120 years.

Most intense

Hurricane Camille, which made landfall on Aug. 17, 1969 near Waveland, Miss, is the most powerful storm to strike the Gulf Coast, based on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, commonly used by meteorologists.

Camille is one of only four hurricanes ever to make U.S. landfall as a Category 5 storm, the others being the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane; Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Michael in 2018.

According to the National Weather Service, "The actual maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Camille are not known as the hurricane destroyed all the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area. Re-analysis data found peak winds of 150 knots (roughly 175 mph) along the coast."

Until Hurricane Katrina surpassed it, Camille's more than 24-foot storm surge in Pass Christian, Miss., held the record. Katrina's storm surge along the Mississippi coast reached 30 feet.

Deadliest

The Great Galveston Hurricane hit the Texas coast with little warning on Sept. 8, 1900 and is estimated to have been a Category 4 storm when it made landfall. It pushed a 16-foot storm surge and winds of 150 mph.

A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, was reduced to rubble, as shown in this September 1900 photo, after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900. AP hide caption

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AP

A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, was reduced to rubble, as shown in this September 1900 photo, after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900.

AP

"Forecasting was primitive in those days — they relied on spotty reports from ships in the Gulf of Mexico. Citizens of Galveston could see that a storm was brewing offshore, but had no idea that it was a monster," NPR's John Burnett reported in 2017.

Estimates of the death toll range from 6,000 to 12,000 people on Galveston Island and the mainland.

It remains the deadliest weather disaster in U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a 2008 remembrance of the devastating storm, The Associated Press spoke with Bonnie Rice, then 74, a retired caterer who was born and raised on Galveston Island.

"My grandmother's family went in two boats to safety — one made it, the other didn't," she told the news agency. "My grandfather's family lived down the island and they tied themselves down to two trees. One blew away, the other didn't."

Costliest

A photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005 shows floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina filling the streets near downtown New Orleans. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

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David J. Phillip/AP

A photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005 shows floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina filling the streets near downtown New Orleans.

David J. Phillip/AP

Hurricane Katrina ranks as not only the costliest-ever U.S. hurricane, but as the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, according to NOAA. Not only did it cost as many as 1,836 lives and leave millions of people homeless, but it left behind an estimated $160 billion worth of damage. Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005 as a Category 3. Although New Orleans initially believed it had been spared the worst, the hurricane's record storm surge overwhelmed levees and other flood control measures, eventually submerging 80% of the city.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017 as a Category 4 storm, ranks as the second most costly U.S. storm, at $125 billion in damage.

People wait to board buses Tuesday in Lake Charles, La., as they prepare to be evacuated before Hurricane Laura's arrival. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People wait to board buses Tuesday in Lake Charles, La., as they prepare to be evacuated before Hurricane Laura's arrival.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Texas and Louisiana were already struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus when Hurricane Laura hit early Thursday, and now some experts are warning mass evacuations could be responsible for a new wave of infections.

More than half a million people were ordered to leave parts of those states in the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began. Many who heeded those warnings were directed to stay in government-paid hotel rooms or sleep in their cars since officials didn't want to open mass shelters and risk the spread of COVID-19.

Before Laura emerged, researchers at Columbia University conducted a study that found a large-scale hurricane evacuation could spur thousands of COVID-19 infections. The study is undergoing peer review.

"In every scenario we analyzed, hurricane evacuations cause an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases," Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the co-authors of the study, told NBC News.

Texas has recorded at least 610,648 coronavirus cases and 12,140 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. In Louisiana, there have been at least 144,960 cases and 4,851 deaths.

But cases have been dropping over the past week in both states, according to a New York Times database. Texas recorded an average of 5,316 cases per day, a 25% decrease from the average two weeks earlier, while Louisiana saw 726 new cases per day on average, a 39% drop.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said officials won't be able to determine quickly whether evacuations spurred new infections because many testing sites in Laura's path were shut down.

"We're basically going to be blind for this week because we'll have to discontinue much of our community-based testing," Edwards said.

More than 2,100 individuals were sheltered across the state, with more than 1,900 people housed in hotel and motel rooms, Edwards said. Congregate shelters were only used as a last resort.

"We want people to be as safe as possible, not just from the storm but also from the virus," he said.

As the storm churned Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to keep following coronavirus health protocols as they rushed to evacuate the most vulnerable areas in Laura's path. He implored families to isolate themselves in hotel rooms and avoid crowding at intake centers.

"Remember, just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean that COVID-19 either has or is going to leave Texas," Abbott said.

But efforts to house people fleeing vulnerable areas were complicated by the pandemic. Starting Tuesday, Texas officials began deploying charter buses equipped with necessary personal protective equipment to move people out of coastal areas.

Buses were forced to make more trips with fewer people onboard to allow for adequate social distancing, said Joe Arrington, spokesperson for the San Antonio Fire Department.

"With COVID, their buses are about half full so we need twice as many buses as we normally would," he said, noting that many people also showed up in their own vehicles.

Evacuees were directed to intake centers in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas to receive instructions on where to shelter. Medical screenings were also conducted, including temperature checks and questions about symptoms.

Hotel rooms began to fill up across Texas as early as Wednesday morning, The Texas Tribune reported.

An intake center at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack in Austin began turning evacuees away at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after filling 3,000 available rooms. By 10 a.m., officials said they reopened the racetrack as a rest area, while people waited for rooms to become available. Some people waited up to eight hours in their cars, KVUE reported.

The chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management told reporters the issue resulted partly because some evacuees were going directly to hotels without first registering with officials at the racetrack. Austin later opened the city's convention center as a shelter but could only house 135 people in the building — which can normally hold up to 3,200 — due to COVID-19.

The issue of space ballooned as evacuees drove to registration areas in San Antonio and Dallas in search of shelter.

"Hotels up and down the coast from Austin to San Antonio are full," Rocky Vaz, Dallas' director of emergency management, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "Dallas hotels are filling up extremely fast."

Staffing shortages also contributed to the delay since many hotel workers were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told Texas Public Radio.

"We've got a lot of empty rooms and hotels around this city, but we don't have staff so people are having to recall staff to get those rooms operational and that takes a little bit of time," Nirenberg said.

By Wednesday evening, the governor said more than 8,500 people were provided shelter throughout the state, with more than 3,000 people in hotel rooms.

Hurricane Laura blows trees near the Golden Nugget Hotel in Lake Charles, La., as it comes ashore early Thursday. The storm is blamed for four deaths, all caused by trees falling on homes. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hurricane Laura blows trees near the Golden Nugget Hotel in Lake Charles, La., as it comes ashore early Thursday. The storm is blamed for four deaths, all caused by trees falling on homes.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hurricane Laura has caused at least four deaths in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards says. All of the deaths reported due to the Category 4 storm were caused by its powerful winds.

"All were related to trees falling on residences, which is in line with this being a major wind event," Edwards said in a news conference at 2 p.m. ET. He added that other deaths may be discovered as emergency crews perform rescue and recovery operations.

The governor did not go into detail about the deaths, other than to say that they occurred away from the coast, in the parishes of Vernon, Jackson and Acadia — a sign, the governor said, that Laura's biggest dangers to people in Louisiana seems to have come from wind, rather than water.

The people who were killed include a 60-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, member station WWNO reports.

"Just about the entire state saw tropical-storm-force winds," Edwards said, "everything except for extreme southeast Louisiana and the North Shore. That's how big and powerful the storm was."

About 600,000 electrical customers are currently out of power statewide, he said.

Some areas have likely not yet seen water levels hit their heights, Edwards said, citing the movement of Laura's outer bands that are still reaching far into the Gulf of Mexico to pull water toward the shore.

While offering his condolences to those affected by the storm, Edwards said Louisiana seems to have escaped the worst-case-scenarios of surging water along the shore.

"It's not the 20 feet that we were told," he said, referring to forecasters' most alarming predictions about the powerful hurricane.

"Nine to 12 feet of storm surge is still a lot of storm surge," Edwards said. Referring to the area where Laura made landfall, he added, "we had some gauges in Cameron Parish that actually failed after registering 12 feet."

But Laura's center never tracked westward across the Calcasieu Ship Channel – a quirk of its path that the governor said "helped tremendously." The channel runs between Lake Charles and the Gulf of Mexico; if the hurricane had applied all of its might to it, the channel could have served as a conduit for a massive amount of water.

It was one of the only bits of good news about Laura, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Louisiana.

"We have sustained a tremendous amount of damage," Edwards said. "We have thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens whose lives are upside down, because their businesses and/or their homes have been damaged."

More than 2,100 people are currently in shelters, the governor said, adding that more than 1,900 of that number are being housed in motels or hotels, out of concerns that crowding people in to a large shelter or evacuation center could help spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"We're in a COVID environment," Edwards said "and we want people to be as safe as possible — not just from the storm but also from the virus."

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen during a Hurricane Laura briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

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Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen during a Hurricane Laura briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington.

Evan Vucci/AP

Hours before the final night of the Republican National Convention, President Trump visited FEMA headquarters in Washington for a briefing on Tropical Storm Laura.

Trump sat with Vice President Mike Pence at the front of a long conference table in FEMA's National Response Coordination Center as officials detailed the federal response to the storm and showed pictures of the damage. Laura made landfall over Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, but has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves across the South.

"This team forward deployed resources," Pence said. "We were ready for the worst, and by all accounts from the experts, while this was obviously a major storm with devastating impact, it was not as bad as it could have been."

Trump said the campaign briefly considered postponing his convention speech until Monday so he could travel to Texas, Louisiana and possibly Arkansas to survey hurricane damage, but he said the campaign ultimately decided to continue with the speech as planned. The president said he will visit Texas and Louisiana over the weekend.

"We got a little bit lucky," Trump said. "It was very big, it was very powerful, but it passed quickly, so everything's on schedule."

Earlier, the president issued an emergency declaration for Arkansas in response to the storm, authorizing federal assistance and FEMA coordination of disaster relief. He previously issued similar declarations for Louisiana and Texas.

With all eyes on Trump ahead of his acceptance speech tonight, the president's appearance at FEMA offered an opportunity to present the image of the nation's top executive presiding over a natural disaster.

Throughout the week, Trump has leaned on his official duties to boost his reelection campaign. During Tuesday night's programming, Trump granted a presidential pardon and later looked on as his homeland security secretary conducted a naturalization ceremony for the cameras.

This morning, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told reporters the president will address Laura in his convention speech tonight and "ask for God's blessing for people in its path."

The overlap of hurricane and convention season has scrambled convention plans before.

In 2012, Tropical Storm Isaac, which eventually developed into a hurricane before it made landfall in Louisiana, delayed the Republican convention in Tampa. And when Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana in 2008, most of the Republican convention's first night was called off.

A tree is uprooted in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura Thursday in Sabine Pass, Texas. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

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Eric Gay/AP

A tree is uprooted in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura Thursday in Sabine Pass, Texas.

Eric Gay/AP

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday afternoon the state had dodged a bullet, sustaining less damage than was expected from Hurricane Laura.

Abbott said that storm surge across the southeast Texas coast turned out to be much less severe than projected, which gave the state a break in terms of the devastation.

"It could've been far worse," he said, during a press conference in the town of Orange. "When you consider the magnitude of the damage that did occur here, we did dodge a bullet."

After surveying the damage this morning, it was clear that Orange County bore the brunt of Laura's power, Abbott said.

"The most significant damage I was able to observe from the sky was in Orange," he said. "You saw more rooftops ripped off. You saw big pieces of steel framing wrapped around trees. You saw some roads still inundated, impassable from water."

Abbott said officials still had much work to do in addressing the areas most impacted by the storm.

Search and rescue teams, including National Guard troops, are already on the ground in the areas impacted by the storm, Abbott said. So far, there are no confirmed deaths in Texas from the storm.

Texas officials stand ready to monitor potential flash flooding and tornadoes that could arise as Laura moves north and exits the state, Abbott said.

More than 160,000 utility customers were affected by power outages in the region affected by the storm as of Thursday afternoon.

The governor said almost 8,500 people evacuated the most vulnerable areas and were provided shelter throughout the state. More than 3,000 people were sheltered in hotel rooms. Abbott urged evacuees to listen to local officials for information about when it is safe to return to their homes.

Abbott credited local officials for implementing evacuation orders and praised residents for following them. Heeding those warnings helped save lives and property, he said.

"That is a miracle," Abbott said. "It shows that prayers were answered and that preparation paid off."

The controversial South's Defenders Memorial Monument has stood at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in Lake Charles, La., for more than 100 years. But Hurricane Laura toppled it. Courtesy of Renee C. hide caption

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Courtesy of Renee C.

The controversial South's Defenders Memorial Monument has stood at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in Lake Charles, La., for more than 100 years. But Hurricane Laura toppled it.

Courtesy of Renee C.

The Confederate statue bore the words "The South's Defenders." But when Hurricane Laura walloped Lake Charles, La., on Thursday, the controversial statue was toppled by one of the strongest storms ever to hit Louisiana.

Protesters had asked the parish to remove the prominent memorial this summer, only to be turned away — prompting talk of an economic boycott. Then came the hurricane.

The South's Defenders Memorial Monument features a young flag-bearing soldier, looking out over the lawn of the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, where it has stood for more than 100 years. But Laura, which came ashore as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph, knocked the soldier off its pedestal and onto the grass.

To resident Renee C., who didn't want to use her last name out of concern that her employer might not approve, the downing of the statue is one of the only bright spots from Laura's tumultuous visit to Lake Charles.

The storm damaged or destroyed a number of other landmarks, including a bowling alley, a casino and a Happy Donuts, which is a popular source of pastries such as king cakes and kolaches.

"I evacuated so I am NOT there now," she said, after running down a list of the damage. "I'm waiting on word on the condition of my home. It's bad."

Just two weeks ago, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury – similar to a county commission or council — voted to keep the Confederate monument in its place next to a large oak tree at the courthouse. As Laura mangled the statue, its winds also ripped several limbs from the tree, leaving the grass littered with debris.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter and other influential members of the community had joined those calling to move the monument, according to local newspaper American Press. But the police jurors voted to keep the monument.

The parish's decision process included a seven-week public feedback period, which generated a large response. During the voting session, officials said they had received 945 written comments – 878 of which were against moving the statue elsewhere.

Chris Johnson views destruction at his home Thursday in Lake Charles, La., after Hurricane Laura moved through the state. Johnson stayed in his home as the storm passed. Gerald Herbert/AP hide caption

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Gerald Herbert/AP

Chris Johnson views destruction at his home Thursday in Lake Charles, La., after Hurricane Laura moved through the state. Johnson stayed in his home as the storm passed.

Gerald Herbert/AP

Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms to hit Louisiana in living memory, left destruction and misery in its wake, with debris from homes and businesses scattered about, flooded streets, uprooted lampposts and at least one death. Authorities warn there could be more damage yet to be discovered.

Hours after the storm passed the Louisiana coastline, high winds and rain persisted, preventing authorities from checking for survivors.

In hard-hit Lake Charles, Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, told The Associated Press by phone that "people are calling ... but there ain't no way to get to them."

Lake Charles, a big petrochemical center, "took a horrific pummeling" from the storm, NPR's John Burnett reported from Beaumont, Texas. The storm topped out as a Category 4 hurricane just as it made landfall around 1 a.m. Thursday near Cameron, La.

"Most buildings are just not designed to withstand 120- to 130-mph winds," Burnett told Morning Edition.

"Families will be talking about this for generations," he added.

Damaged homes sit among floodwaters after Hurricane Laura passed through the area Thursday in Holly Beach, La. Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

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Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Damaged homes sit among floodwaters after Hurricane Laura passed through the area Thursday in Holly Beach, La.

Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Meanwhile, NPR member station WWNO reported that a fire has broken out at a petrochemical plant in Westlake, La., that manufactures chlorine for swimming pools. It was not immediately known if the fire was caused by the storm.

The first reported U.S. death from the storm was of a 14-year-old girl in Leesville, La., who was killed when a tree fell on her house, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

"We do expect that there could be more fatalities," the spokesperson, Christina Stephens, said on Twitter.

In Lake Arthur, La., Chrystal Breaux told WWNO she was "spared in comparison to some of our neighbors."

"I think that we are blessed to still have a home," she said, adding that she has a sister who lives in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles: "They don't have homes, and they don't have jobs because their places of occupation are completely gone."

Forecasters had warned of "unsurvivable" storm surge. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC's Good Morning America that he was concerned about anyone near the Gulf Coast on Wednesday night. "We've got to pray for them, because looking at the storm surge, there would be little chance of survival," he said.

In Cameron Parish, Nungesser said that 50 to 150 people refused pleas from authorities to leave before the storm — some of them who lived in recreational vehicles.

"It's a very sad situation," Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness for the parish, told the AP. "We did everything we could to encourage them to leave."

However, the governor said Thursday morning that early reports indicated the wind was worse than the storm surge, but he warned that the hurricane did "extensive" damage. He said the National Guard was using helicopters to survey damage and make a "full assessment."

"On the forecast track, the center of Laura is forecast to move over Arkansas tonight, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday," the National Hurricane Center says. NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East hide caption

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NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

"On the forecast track, the center of Laura is forecast to move over Arkansas tonight, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday," the National Hurricane Center says.

NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

Laura is now a tropical storm, bringing sustained winds of up to 65 mph to the area just south of Louisiana's border with Arkansas. But forecasters warn that the storm remains a dire threat, due to flood-inducing rainfall and other perils.

The former hurricane is now moving north at 15 mph – maintaining the same motion it has taken for much of Thursday, since making landfall in southwest Louisiana with intense winds and a large storm surge.

About 600,000 electrical customers are currently out of power, Gov. John Bel Edwards said in an update at 2 p.m. ET.

Laura was so huge, Edwards said, that nearly his entire state has experienced tropical-storm conditions in the past 24 hours. As of early Thursday afternoon, Laura's tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from its center, the National Hurricane Center says.

Even as Laura passes through northern Louisiana, a storm surge warning remains in effect at the coast from Sabine Pass, Texas, along the border to Port Fourchon, La., south of New Orleans. Parts of the state is also under a tornado alert.

As NHC Director Ken Graham noted earlier Thursday, Laura's rain bands are still swirling in from the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas — drawing water from the Gulf of Mexico to fuel rains, and pushing coastal water levels even higher in some areas.

"That moisture will continue to stream in to these same areas with time," Graham said, "so portions of Louisiana, East Texas, and eventually all this moisture continuing to move north, even into Arkansas."

"On the forecast track, the center of Laura is forecast to move over Arkansas tonight, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday," the NHC says.

August 27

Southeast Texas Was Spared The Brunt Of Hurricane Laura. Now The Cleanup Begins

Houston Public Media News 88.7

A store in Port Arthur, Texas, suffers wind damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Though there was some damage, many Jefferson County residents say they were lucky the storm did not do more. Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media hide caption

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Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

A store in Port Arthur, Texas, suffers wind damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Though there was some damage, many Jefferson County residents say they were lucky the storm did not do more.

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

People in Jefferson County, Texas, where Hurricane Laura was projected to cause serious damage, are breathing a sigh of relief Thursday after the storm moved into Louisiana and points north without leaving too much impact on the community. Now many of those southeast Texas residents are working on cleaning up what little damage there is.

In an H-E-B grocery store parking lot Thursday morning in Port Arthur, representatives from Texas Search and Rescue were considering their next move. The cleanup there won't be nearly as difficult as once thought, though heavy winds did knock down trees overnight in the middle of many neighborhood streets.

Some power lines were down, and Jefferson County officials said the storm caused outages for just under 63,000 people at first count. Two-thirds of those are in Port Arthur.

Jesus Herrera, 35, stood on his block early Thursday, surveying some of the damage, which included a downed power line that only avoided landing on a nearby house thanks to a tree blocking its path.

Herrera said he lost power about an hour into the storm, which arrived nearby at about 11 p.m. CT. And he said he's glad that power is all he lost.

"It was kind of like a movie scenario, I guess you could say," Herrera said. "Sound effects, you've got like the wind blowing, and then the thunderstorms and all of a sudden you hear this big old loud, 'crack!' "

​Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie told NPR's Morning Edition that he was thankful for how the city fared.

"​There was minimal damage," he said. "We have teams out as I speak assessing the damage, some power outages, some tree limbs in roadways, but not as many as we've seen in other incidents."

Port Arthur was one of the first cities in Texas to order evacuations ahead of the hurricane.

Those evacuations were complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, but Bartie said he feels good about his decision.

"You know I'm still confident I did the right and correct thing, because that was to get all of the people who I'm responsible for out of harm's way," he said.

In an effort to keep evacuations socially distanced, emergency managers had evacuees fill hotel rooms across the state Wednesday night instead of large shelters.

Some residents on the Texas-Louisiana coast rode out the storm Wednesday night into Thursday despite mandatory evacuations. In the Texas town of Nederland, Chad Chappell said he stayed home as the storm blew in.

"It started raging," Chappell said. "Just trees slapping everywhere."

While Chappell said he didn't see flying debris, he still did not have electricity at his home Thursday morning — though he added not all homes in the area lost power.

A helicopter flies over a chemical fire at BioLab plant after Hurricane Laura made landfall in Westlake, La., on Aug. 27, 2020. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A helicopter flies over a chemical fire at BioLab plant after Hurricane Laura made landfall in Westlake, La., on Aug. 27, 2020.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Updated at 9:26 p.m. ET

A chemical plant in Westlake, La., that caught fire during Hurricane Laura is still burning Thursday evening.

The facility, BioLab Inc., makes chlorine for swimming pools. Officials are unsure exactly when the fire started, but Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Press Secretary Greg Langley said his agency was informed of the fire around 9 a.m. local time.

LDEQ began monitoring the air quality when they arrived at the scene, and the team's initial readings did not detect any chlorine. During a 1 p.m. press conference, State Fire Marshall Butch Browning also said no chlorine was detected in the air.

"What they have found is no low-level detection of chlorine offsite, where people walk and where people gather — which is a good thing," Browning said. "The cloud, the plume, as it goes in the air and moves out there is chlorine. Those chemicals are falling in the lake, which is the right place for it because it dilutes the chlorine. So that, we don't believe, is endangering anyone."

Browning said he is unaware of anyone reporting symptoms of chlorine gas exposure, which affects the respiratory system.

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management issued a shelter-in-place advisory for residents nearby.

"Residents are advised to shelter in place until further notice and close your doors and windows. Follow the directions of local officials," Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted.

The Cajun Navy, a southern Louisiana volunteer group that responds to natural disasters, shared this video of smoke rising over the city around 9:40 a.m. CT.

Louisiana State Police and the Lake Charles Fire Department also responded to the fire, along with Environmental Protection Agency personnel and monitoring aircraft.

KIK Custom Products, the company that owns BioLab, sent a team to the scene and released a statement that said the facility followed shutdown protocols and was evacuated when Laura reached Category 4 strength around 11 a.m. CT. All employees were confirmed to be safe.

"Our priority is the safety and well-being of the Lake Charles community of which we are a part," a KIK Products spokesperson wrote. "We are working with first responders, local authorities and environmental agencies to contain and mitigate the impact of this incident as quickly as possible."

Officials have been unable to provide a timeline for when the fire will be put out.

A street is seen strewn with debris and downed power lines after Hurricane Laura passed through Lake Charles, La., on Thursday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A street is seen strewn with debris and downed power lines after Hurricane Laura passed through Lake Charles, La., on Thursday.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Updated at 12 p.m. ET

Hurricane Laura knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of utility customers in Louisiana and Texas and forced thousands to evacuate.

As of 12 p.m. ET Thursday, 578,911 customers were without power in Louisiana, and in Texas, 139,307 people were in the dark, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The storm was moving inland through southwestern Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph on Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

Hurricane Laura smacked into the Texas-Louisiana coast overnight, making landfall as a Category 4 storm that brought catastrophic storm surge and flash flooding. Forecasters expect Laura to move into Arkansas on Thursday evening.

In the southeast Texas counties of Jefferson and Orange, which straddle the Louisiana border, more than 100,000 people were without power Thursday morning, according to energy provider Entergy. The southwestern Louisiana parishes of Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis also saw more than 100,000 customers without power.

Ahead of the storm, about 10,000 people evacuated from Texas, mostly along the southeast coast and the border with Louisiana, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told ABC's Good Morning America. He emphasized that those early evacuations saved lives.

"It could have been a lifesaver," he said. "That may be one reason why we don't have any reports of loss of life yet."

In Louisiana, officials expressed concerns that not enough people evacuated coastal areas. Many people who built up their homes to 15 feet after Hurricane Rita probably thought they would be safe, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC.

At least 150 people in Cameron Parish refused to leave the area after officers went door to door urging some 7,000 residents to get out, the Houston Chronicle reported. The National Hurricane Center said storm surge there was projected to reach 20 feet.

Hurricane Laura approaches the Gulf Coast of the U.S. on Wednesday. The storm rapidly intensified before it made landfall. NOAA via AP hide caption

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NOAA via AP

Hurricane Laura approaches the Gulf Coast of the U.S. on Wednesday. The storm rapidly intensified before it made landfall.

NOAA via AP

Hurricane Laura's top wind speeds nearly doubled in just 24 hours as it approached the border between Texas and Louisiana. The wall of water it pushed in front of it grew until forecasters warned that it would produce "unsurvivable" storm surge.

Laura's rapid intensification is one hallmark of climate change. As the Earth warms up, the water on the surface of the ocean gets hotter. Hot water is like a battery charger for hurricanes; it send energy and moisture into the storm as it forms and helps it grow more powerful and deadly.

That means big, deadly hurricanes are getting more likely. "The proportion of all hurricanes reaching Category 4 and 5 strength has increased in recent years," says meteorologist Jeff Masters.

A study last year found that storms are more likely to become major hurricanes very quickly. The last two major hurricanes to affect the Gulf Coast — Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 — both intensified rapidly before they made landfall.

That's exactly what happened to Hurricane Laura. The water in the Gulf of Mexico right now is significantly warmer than average, and in some places, it's nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This is concerning because hurricanes that rapidly intensify before landfall are the hardest ones to prepare for," says Masters, because there is less time for people to evacuate or find local shelters than can withstand highly destructive wind speeds.

That's especially true during the pandemic, when public shelters come with the threat of coronavirus transmission.

Hurricane Laura will affect a large swath of the central and eastern U.S. in the coming days. As with previous storms, rain-driven flooding could stretch thousands of miles.

"We're not done yet" with dangerous threats from Hurricane Laura, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says. NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East hide caption

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NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

"We're not done yet" with dangerous threats from Hurricane Laura, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says.

NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

Hurricane Laura is diminishing – but it still has sustained winds of at least 100 mph, and it will remain a hurricane "near Shreveport, almost into Arkansas," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in an update Thursday morning.

"Even if you're well inland, you could still see some of these impacts because it can knock down the trees. You can see flash flooding and power outages throughout Louisiana, East Texas and even into Arkansas," Graham said.

"We're not done yet," Graham said, noting that even though Laura is now far inland, the storm's rain bands are still swirling in from as far back as the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas, with water from the Gulf of Mexico continuing to fuel torrential rains that could cause flooding far inland.

"That moisture will continue to stream in to these same areas with time," Graham said, "so portions of Louisiana, East Texas, and eventually all this moisture continuing to move north, even into Arkansas."

People living in Louisiana should expect to see 6 to 10 inches of rain – and maybe much more.

"I wouldn't be surprised if some places get 12 inches of rain, maybe even 15 by the time it's all said and done," Graham said.

The actual size of Laura's perilous storm surge – which forecasters had described as "unsurvivable," with massive waves causing significant damage from Sea Rim State Park in Texas to Intracoastal City, La. – is still being measured, Graham said. But he added that readings of 11 feet of water have already come in.

Thanks to strong winds coming in from the southwest, the surge of water is still being held in coastal areas such as Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall. And water is still being pushed ashore, Graham said.

Hurricane Laura's arrival at the Louisiana coast early Thursday prompted the National Hurricane Center to warn: "Take action now to protect your life! NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East hide caption

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NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

Hurricane Laura's arrival at the Louisiana coast early Thursday prompted the National Hurricane Center to warn: "Take action now to protect your life!

NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-East

Hurricane Laura is destroying buildings, sparking flash floods and bringing a "catastrophic" storm surge to southwestern Louisiana on Thursday morning, remaining a fearsome hurricane more than seven hours after making landfall.

Laura rapidly intensified into an extremely dangerous storm as it neared land, with the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters spinning its maximum sustained winds up to at least 150 mph.

When the storm's eyewall moved onshore around 1 a.m. ET, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center emphasized the personal threat to anyone in its path:

"TAKE COVER NOW! Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to the safe room in your shelter. Take action now to protect your life!"

The advisory instructed people to get under a table and shield themselves with mattresses and blankets.

The hurricane made landfall as a Category 4 storm, crossing over Cameron, La., roughly 35 miles east of the Texas border. Laura has since weakened, but the National Hurricane Center warns that "a life-threatening storm surge with large and destructive waves will continue within the Storm Surge Warning area this morning."

The dangerous surge of water could reach communities up to 40 miles inland from the coast, and it's expected to take days before floodwaters fully recede.

Only one other storm is known to have hit Louisiana with as much raw power: Last Island in 1856, which also had 150 mph winds, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach.

The storm forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate in Texas and Louisiana ahead of its arrival. On Thursday, more than half a million utility customers are now without power, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.us.

Laura's maximum sustained winds dropped to 100 mph by 8 a.m. ET, making it a Category 2 storm. It's expected to weaken rapidly and become a tropical storm later today. But it's pummeling communities far inland as it moves northward with strong wind gusts and torrential rain.

People in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas could see 6-12 inches of rain with isolated areas getting as much as 18 inches.

Laura is currently 20 miles north of Fort Polk, La., moving north at 15 mph.

"The center of Laura is forecast to move over Arkansas tonight, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states Saturday," the National Weather Service says.

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