The remnants of Hurricane Laura have unleashed heavy rain and twisters hundreds of miles inland from a path of death and destruction along the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Flooding and more tornadoes are possible as the leftovers of the once fearsome Category 4 hurricane move eastwards through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama after an apparent tornado tore through a church and homes in Arkansas.
Laura weakened to a tropical depression late on Thursday, but could become a tropical storm again when it moves off the mid-Atlantic coast on Saturday.
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 barrelled across Louisiana and parts of Texas.
A sense of relief prevailed that Laura was not as destructive forecasters had feared, but a full assessment of the damage could take days. Buildings were demolished and entire neighbourhoods have been left in ruins along the coast. Thunderstorms and sizzling heat were expected in the disaster area on Friday, complicating recovery efforts.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said: “It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely. But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage.”
The last couple of days have been hard, and the road to recovery won’t be easy. But we will recover. Our strength will show through, as it always does. #lagov #Laura #HurricaneLaura pic.twitter.com/LxfAXnA3hP
— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) August 28, 2020
Mr Edwards said finishing search and rescue operations was a top priority, 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 for evacuees over fears of spreading Covid-19.
Mr 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 150mph put it among the strongest systems on record in the US. Not until 11 hours after landfall did Laura finally lose hurricane status as it ploughed north and thrashed Arkansas, and up until Thursday evening it remained a tropical storm with winds of 40mph.
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 had partially collapsed. Windows were blown out, awnings ripped away and trees split. A floating casino came unmoored and hit a bridge, and small planes were thrown on top of 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.
Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the US this year, setting a new record for US landfalls by the end of August. Laura hit the US after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.
US President Donald Trump plans to visit the Gulf Coast to tour the damage.