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Hurricane Laura: People stranded as rescuers wait for winds battering US Gulf Coast to ease

Laura weakened to a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 160 km/h.

Updated Aug 27th 2020, 9:20 PM

HURRICANE LAURA TORE off roofs and shredded buildings in the southern US state of Louisiana as it reached landfall early today, killing at least one person.

 A 14-year-old girl was confirmed as the first fatality from the storm. She was killed when a tree fell on her home in Louisiana.

Forecasters warned of the continued risk of a storm surge as the hurricane - one of the strongest to ever hit the region – moved inland and weakened rapidly.

Streets were flooded, debris flew through the air and buildings were submerged by water or destroyed.

More than 700,000 people were without power in Louisiana and neighbouring Texas, according to the PowerOutage.us site.

Hours after the hurricane made landfall near the Texas border, the wind and rain were still too severe to allow authorities to check for survivors.

Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate ahead of the hurricane, but not everyone did so.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards appealed to residents to stay home, and confirmed that one girl died when a tree fell on her home in the Leesville area of the state.

He also warned of a large chemical plant fire near Lake Charles that was belching black flumes into the air.

The eye passed directly over Lake Charles, and drone footage shows roofs ripped off, exposing living rooms to the elements, trees downed and water overflowing the banks of coastal properties.

The National Hurricane Centre said a dangerous storm surge could still sweeping inland, but downgraded its alerts. 

It previously said the hurricane had hit the coast with winds of 240 km/h at 1am local time near Cameron, a 400-person community about 48 km east of the Texas border.

“Hurricane Laura remains a deadly hurricane with devastating coastal storm surges, destructive winds, and flash flooding,” the White House said in a statement, adding President Donald Trump vowed to deploy all necessary resources to help those in need.

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on the third night of the Republican Party convention, urged people in the storm’s path to “heed state and local authorities.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Peter Gaynor said the damage reported so far appeared to be less severe than had been feared, but he expects there to have been significant wind damage to buildings once proper surveys of the disaster area are completed.

Forecasters had warned the storm surge would be “unsurvivable” and the damage “catastrophic”.

They predicted a storm surge of 4-6 metres in Port Arthur, Texas, and a stretch of Louisiana including Lake Charles, a city of 80,000 people on Lake Calcasieu.

“This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and floodwaters will not fully recede for several days,” the hurricane centre said.

austin-hosts-hurricane-laura-evacuees Hundreds of evacuees wait in line near Austin, Texas. Source: Bob Daemmrich/PA Images

Hours after it arrived, Laura weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds of 160 km/h.

It is moving north, with damaging winds extending outward as far as 280 km.

In Cameron Parish, where Laura came ashore, Mr Nungesser said 50 to 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to endure the storm, some in elevated homes and even in recreational vehicles.

Gaynor urged people in Laura’s path to stay at home, if that is still safe.

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“Don’t go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk, and you put first responders at risk,” he told This Morning on CBS.

Forecasters expect a weakened Laura to cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. An unusual tropical storm warning was issued as far north as Little Rock, where forecasters expect gusts of 80 km/h and a deluge of rain into tomorrow.

By Thursday noon, the hurricane had weakened to a Category 1 storm as it moved towards Arkansas.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had warned Laura’s power was “unprecedented” and told citizens to “get out of harm’s way.”

“Your property can be replaced,” Abbott said. “Your life cannot.”

The storm is so powerful that it could regain strength after turning east and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, potentially threatening the densely populated north-east.

Laura hit the US after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola – 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic.

It is the seventh named storm to strike the US this year, setting a new record for landfalls by the end of August.

The old record was six in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

With reporting from © – AFP 2020

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