Hurricane Laura causes severe damage and floods as it batters Louisiana

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Hurricane Laura
Hurricane Laura

Hurricane Laura has struck the US state of Louisiana, causing flash floods, severe damage to buildings and power cuts to more than half a million homes.

It is one of the strongest to ever hit the US Gulf Coast, striking at category four with winds up to 150mph (240km/h).

Laura’s storm surge has not reached the levels feared but is still considered life-threatening, and could spread 40 miles (65km) inland.

Half a million residents had been told to leave parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said early on Thursday: “We’ve had daylight now for a couple of hours. It appears there is more structural damage from the wind and a little less flood damage than we anticipated.”

He confirmed the first fatality in his state, adding: “I suspect that won’t be the last, although I pray that we don’t have more.”

A spokesman for the State Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness later told CNN of another two deaths.

Downed power lines in Iowa, Louisiana
Image captionMore than half a million homes in Louisiana were reported to be without power

President Donald Trump had spoken to the governors of Texas and Louisiana, the White House confirmed, and encouraged “all in the storm’s path to listen to the safety guidance of state and local officials”.

Laura and another storm, Marco, earlier swept across the Caribbean, killing 24 people.

Where did Laura hit and what’s its path?

Hurricane Laura made landfall shortly after midnight local time (05:00 GMT) near the district of Cameron, in Louisiana. It tracked north, just east of the Texas-Louisiana border.

Four hours later it had been downgraded to a category three storm, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported, before weakening again. At 14:00 GMT it was a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75mph (120 km/h).

A map showing the expected storm surge

But the NWS said “a catastrophic storm surge, hurricane force winds and flash flooding will continue“.

Laura will track north across Louisiana on Thursday afternoon, with its centre moving into Arkansas overnight. It is expected to become a tropical storm later, but it could still be hurricane force up to the Arkansas border, said Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center.

There are fears Laura could spawn tornadoes.

One sheriff’s office in Louisiana’s Vermilion Parish had told those who chose not to evacuate: “Write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it a Ziploc bag in your pocket. Praying that it does not come to this.”

What is the damage so far?

It has been daylight in the region for several hours now and the extent of the damage is becoming more known.

Governor Edwards said the first fatality was a 14-year-old girl killed by a tree falling on her home in the Leesville area.

CNN quoted homeland security official Mike Steele as saying two men were also killed in their homes by falling trees.

Overturned lorry in Vinton, Louisiana
Image captionPolice inspect an overturned lorry in Vinton, Louisiana

Forecasters had earlier warned of an “unsurvivable” storm surge. But they said a slight change in wind direction had spared some areas from the feared 20ft (6m) surge, with 9ft recorded in some parts.

However, the surge could still affect areas 40 miles or more inland, up to the Lake Charles area, which has a lot of vulnerable marshland. Floodwaters would “not fully recede for several days”, the NWS said.

More than 540,000 homes in Louisiana and more than 130,000 in Texas had lost power by Thursday morning, according to the US tracking site PowerOutage.

Lake Charles, a city of 78,000, and its surrounding areas have been badly hit. Trees and electricity pylons have been ripped from the ground and vehicles overturned.

Part of the roof of the Golden Nugget Casino flew off, a CNN-affiliated reporter witnessed, and an NWS radar installation was destroyed.

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