(The Center Square) – Hurricane Laura was the most powerful storm on record to hit Louisiana, yet it still was not as destructive as was initially feared, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.
Four storm-related deaths have been confirmed, all caused by trees falling on buildings in Vernon, Jackson or Acadia parishes. More than 1,500 people have been mobilized for ongoing search-and-rescue operations.
Though Laura now is a tropical storm, it remains dangerous as it moves north, officials said. Edwards said rising water still is being reported in Vermilion Parish and farther east.
“Today is about saving lives,” he said.
A fire broke out early Thursday at BioLab, a chlorine plant in Westlake. Nearby residents have been asked to shelter at home with windows and doors closed and the air conditioning turned off if they have electricity. State Police, the Department of Environmental Quality and local fire departments have responded, and there has been no detection of chlorine in the air off site, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said.
Laura blew the barge carrying Isle of Capri Casino in Lake Charles off its moorings and wedged it under the nearby Interstate-10 bridge. Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said the barge has been dislodged. DOTD is inspecting the bridge for damage.
Edwards said 2,100 people are in government-funded shelters. About 1,900 are in hotel and motel rooms while the rest are in large parish shelters.
While a storm surge reached 12 feet or so, Louisiana did not get the 20 feet of surge that was feared. A slight shift to the east resulted in the storm not crossing the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which limited the amount of surge.
“Whatever the reason is, we are thankful,” Edwards said.
Basically the entire western half of the state, including about 600,000 buildings, are without power. Almost the entire state felt wind of at least tropical storm strength.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re in better shape than might have been the case,” Edwards said.