LAKE CHARLES, La. (NewsNation) — The death toll from Hurricane Laura more than doubled Friday to at least 14 as communities began cleaning up along the devastated Louisiana coastline where hundreds of thousands of people were still without power or water — a situation that officials said could persist for weeks or longer.
A day after the Category 4 storm hit, more bodies emerged in the aftermath in Louisiana and neighboring Texas. The dead included five people killed by fallen trees and one person who drowned in a boat. Eight people also died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to unsafe operation of generators, including three inside Texas pool hall, where authorities say the owner had let seven Vietnamese shrimp boat laborers and homeless men take shelter. The other four were in critical condition.
Flooding and tornadoes were possible as the storm, now a tropical depression, drifted north. Forecasters warned that the system could strengthen into a tropical storm again upon returning to the Atlantic Ocean this weekend.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter cautioned that there was no timetable for restoring electricity and that water-treatment plants “took a beating,” resulting in barely a trickle of water coming out of most faucets in the city of 80,000 people.
“If you come back to Lake Charles to stay, make sure you understand the above reality and are prepared to live in it for many days, probably weeks,” Hunter wrote on Facebook.
“’Look and Leave’ truly is the best option for many,” he added.
President Donald Trump planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to tour the damage.
As the grueling recovery came into focus, short bursts of rain heaped new misery onto homes missing windows and roofs. The prevailing sense of relief that Laura, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S., was not as brutal as originally feared offered little comfort to residents now cleaning up the mess.
In the storm’s wake, more than 750,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
In addition to the widespread power outages, the Louisiana Department of Health estimated that more than 220,000 people were without water, which was bound to make staying in wind-wrecked homes even more difficult.
“We think there are going to be people who realize relatively quickly that either they can’t stay in their homes or can’t go back to their homes,” said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Restoration of basic services could take weeks or months, and full rebuilding could take years.
In Lake Charles, Ira Lyles returned to find that his downtown salon called The Parlor House survived with little damage, but his home was destroyed.
“It tore the front off, tore the front of the roof off, picked up my camper trailer and hit the side wall, and the side wall buckled and cracked inside,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a wash.”
Meanwhile, Laura’s remnants delivered heavy rain and strong winds to Memphis, Tennessee, and knocked out electricity. Flash flood watches were in effect throughout western Tennessee.
Laura’s arrival on Thursday inundated entire neighborhoods on or and near the Gulf Coast. Twisted sheets of metal and downed trees and power lines cluttered nearly every street. Caravans of utility trucks were met Friday by thunderstorms in the sizzling heat, complicating recovery efforts.
Edwards called Laura, which packed a top wind speed of 150 mph (241 kph), the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, meaning it surpassed even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.
Pastor Steve Hinkle surveyed the damage after a tornado gutted his Refuge Church in Lake City, Arkansas. An outdoor pavilion was reduced to rubble. A brick shed was shredded. The fellowship and family life center was a tangle of bent metal beams. Yellow insulation littered the churchyard.
“It skipped right over the house and hit every other building that the church has other than us,” said Hinkle, who huddled with his family in the parsonage bathroom after they saw transformers blow out in the distance. “We’re blessed.”
Four people were killed by falling trees in Louisiana. A man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his residence, and another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, authorities said. No deaths were confirmed in Texas, which Gov. Greg Abbott called “a miracle.”
More than 580,000 coastal residents were put under evacuation as the hurricane gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Laura was the seventh named storm to strike the U.S. this year, setting a new record for U.S. landfalls by the end of August. Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
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