The “unsurvivable” hurricane has ripped through the US causing a leak at a chemical plant in what’s been called an “extremely dangerous situation”.
Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 system, made landfall at Cameron in the US state of Louisiana on Thursday about 1am (local time) before it moved onto Lake Charles.
It left entire neighbourhoods in ruins and more than 875,000 people without power. Four were also killed including a 14-year-old girl after a tree fell on her home.
Not long after daybreak offered the first glimpse of the destruction, a massive plume of smoke visible for miles began rising from a chemical plant.
Police said the leak was at a facility run by BioLab, which manufactures chemicals used in household cleaners such as Comet bleach scrub and chlorine powder for pools.
Nearby residents were told to close their doors and windows and turn off air conditioners.
Fox News meteorologist Brad Sowder described it as an “extremely dangerous situation”.
More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars. Although not everyone fled from the coast, officials credited those who did leave for minimising the loss of life.
The eyewall of #Laura is moving onshore over southwestern LA. TAKE COVER NOW! Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching. Move immediately to a safe room in your shelter. Take action now to protect your life!— National Weather Service (@NWS) August 27, 2020
Check media, NOAA Weather Radio for the latest pic.twitter.com/Zv1LAkMknY
‘Very difficult to conceive’
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the state had “sustained a tremendous amount of damage”.
“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” Mr Edwards said.
He called it the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, meaning it surpassed even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.
National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott told a news conference there could be a wall of water “over two storeys high”, which is “very difficult for most to conceive”.
“But that is what is going to happen,” he said.
"The word 'unsurvivable' is not one that we like to use, and it's one that I've never used before.”
The hurricane’s top wind speed of 241 km/h put it among the most powerful systems on record in the US. Not until 11 hours after landfall did Laura finally weaken into a tropical storm as it plowed north and thrashed Arkansas with powerful winds and heavy rain.
A full assessment of the damage wrought by Laura is likely to take days.
‘It’s a big mess’
Brett Geymann, who rode out the storm with three family members in Moss Bluff near Lake Charles, said Laura passed over his house with the roar of a jet engine.
“It looks like 1,000 tornadoes went through here. It’s just destruction everywhere,” he said.
“There are houses that are totally gone. They were there yesterday, but now gone.”
Reverend Karl Smith carefully inspected the damage done to buildings around his First Pentecostal Church. He rode out the storm in the cellar of his house – and had to cut through trees so he and his wife could get out.
"We just had trees thrown everywhere," Mr Smith said.
"It's a big mess."
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Pete Gaynor told Fox News the agency would make storm damage assessments on Thursday and had the resources to respond to the storm now, adding he expected to see significant damage from wind and building damage.
"I think we're generally fortunate – less surge than we thought," Mr Gaynor said.
with The Associated Press and Reuters
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