First Reported Death From Hurricane Laura: 14-Year-Old Girl In Louisiana

This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at 2:40 p.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Hurricane Laura over the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Laura strengthened Wednesday into “an extremel... This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at 2:40 p.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Hurricane Laura over the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Laura strengthened Wednesday into “an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane," The National Hurricane Center said. Laura is expected to strike Wednesday night into Thursday morning along the Louisiana-Texas border. (NOAA via AP) MORE LESS
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August 27, 2020 9:09 a.m.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s received a report of the first fatality from Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, a 14-year-old girl who died when a tree fell on her home.

The governors of Louisiana and Texas say search and rescue teams are still looking, but they’ve found reports so far of widespread fatalities.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is crediting the evacuations of thousands of people for preventing deaths in Texas. Edwards says they are only beginning to assess the damage.

Both governors say the storm surge appears to have been not as bad as they feared.

Abbott said the hurricane’s storm surge hit the east Texas communities of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange “pretty hard” overnight and the eye of the hurricane has continued to move about 100 miles north along the Texas-Louisiana state line.

Laura’s howling winds battered a tall building in Lake Charles, blowing out windows as glass and debris flew to the ground. Police spotted a floating casino that got loose and crunched against a bridge. But hours after landfall, the wind and rain were still blowing too hard to check for survivors.

“There are some people still in town and people are calling … but there ain’t no way to get to them,” Tony Guillory, president of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, said early Thursday morning over the phone as he hunkered down in a Lake Charles government building that was shaking from the storm.

Guillory said he hopes stranded people can be rescued later Thursday but fears that blocked roads, downed power lines and flooding could get in the way.

“We know anyone that stayed that close to the coast, we’ve got to pray for them, because looking at the storm surge, there would be little chance of survival,” Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told ABC’s Good Morning America.

With nearly 470,000 homes and businesses without power in the two states, near-constant lightning provided the only light for some.

The National Hurricane Center said Laura slammed the coast with winds of 150 mph (241 kph) at 1 a.m. CDT as a Category 4 hurricane near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the Texas border.

“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage,” forecasters warned. They said the storm surge could reach 15-20 feet 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 flood waters will not fully recede for several days,” the hurricane center said.

Forecasters said Laura remained a Category 2 hurricane about 6 hours after making landfall, with sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph). Its center was moving north, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Fort Polk, Louisiana. Damaging winds reached outward as far as 175 miles (280 kilometers).

Dick Gremillion, the emergency director in Calcasieu Parish, said hours after landfall that they hadn’t been able to get out and look for damage.

“The wind is still over 50 mph. It’s going to have to drop significantly before they can even run any emergency calls. We also need daylight,” Gremillion said in an interview with KPLC-TV.

More than 580,000 coastal residents were ordered to join the largest evacuation since the coronavirus pandemic began and many did, filling hotels and sleeping in cars since officials didn’t want to open mass shelters and worsen the spread of COVID-19.

But in Cameron Parish, where Laura came ashore, Nungesser said 50 to 150 people refused pleas to leave and planned to weather the storm in everything from elevated homes to recreational vehicles. The result could be deadly, since some houses weren’t raised high enough to withstand the massive storm surge.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Ashley Buller, assistant director of emergency preparedness. “We did everything we could to encourage them to leave.”

Becky Clements, 56, didn’t take chances; she evacuated from Lake Charles after hearing that it could take a direct hit. With memories of the destruction almost 15 years ago by Hurricane Rita, she and her family found an Airbnb hundreds of miles inland.

“The devastation afterward in our town and that whole corner of the state was just awful,” Clements recalled Wednesday. “Whole communities were washed away, never to exist again.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor urged people in Laura’s path to stay home, if that’s still safe. “Don’t go out sightseeing. You put yourself, your family at risk and you put first responders at risk,” he told “CBS This Morning.”

FEMA has plenty of resources staged to help survivors, Gaynor said. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards mobilized the National Guard to help, and state Department of Wildlife crews had boats prepared for water rescues.

Forecasters expected 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 expected gusts of 50 mph (80 kph) and a deluge of rain through Friday. After turning eastward and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, it could again become a tropical storm and threaten the Northeast.

Laura hit the U.S. after killing nearly two dozen people on the island of Hispaniola, including 20 in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power and caused intense flooding.

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

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Plaisance from Stephensville, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; John L. Mone in Port Arthur, Texas; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Juan A. Lozano in Houston; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta.

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