One of the most powerful storms to ever hit the US, Hurricane Laura made has landfall in Louisiana, bringing catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding that killed at least six people and left a trail of destruction across the state.
Laura came ashore as a Category 4 storm and made landfall near Cameron in Louisiana, about 35 miles east of the Texas border, tearing off roofs while knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.
The storm left six people dead in Louisiana, including at least four from falling trees. Among the deceased are a 14-year-old girl and a 68-year-old man, according to a senior official.
Hurricane Laura made landfall overnight near Cameron, Louisiana, bringing "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding" to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said on Thursday.
The storm, with a maximum wind speed of 150 miles per hour, had intensified rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane before slamming into the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana-Texas border.
By mid-Thursday, the hurricane weakened to a tropical storm as it moved north over Louisiana, which took the brunt of the damage. It was continuing to bring strong winds and flooding rainfall to northern Louisiana and southeastern Arkansas, according to forecasters.
The bulk of the damage was reported in Louisiana. The storm barrelled over Lake Charles in Louisiana, an industrial and casino city of 80,000 people.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend to survey the destruction caused by one of the catastrophic hurricanes in living memory.
Speaking at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters, hours before the final night of the Republican National Convention, Trump said the campaign briefly considered postponing his convention speech until Monday so he could travel to Texas, Louisiana and possibly Arkansas to survey the damage, but ultimately decided to continue with the speech as planned.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were briefed in detail along with damage pictures by FEMA officials at its National Response Coordination Center.
"This team forward deployed resources. We were ready for the worst, and by all accounts from the experts, while this was obviously a major storm with devastating impact, it was not as bad as it could have been," Pence said.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Trump that the situation on the ground "is fluid and challenging," but the FEMA is responding. The hurricane's top wind speed of 150 mph put it among the most powerful on record in the US.
Widespread power outages across Louisiana and Texas are increasing with more than 8,40,000 people already without electricity, according to data from PowerOutage.us. Louisiana is experiencing the worst of the outages with almost 6,00,000 people without electricity.
Videos shared on social media showed that wind blew out dozens of windows in high-rise office buildings, including the 22-story CapitalOne tower and ripped the top off a sky bridge. The whistling winds mimicked the alarm-like sounds that could be heard inside the buildings.
Laura damaged key transmission lines, conductors and some transmission towers that handle bringing power from the east. KHOU-TV said that the power utility is asking customers in the western area north of Houston to voluntarily curtail their power usage to help the infrastructure.
In Lake Charles, a regional hub known for its petrochemical plants and crowded casinos, commercial buildings were peeled apart, exposing insulation and wood frames. Billboards were punched out and trees snapped in half.
Fire broke out Thursday morning at a chemical plant in Westlake, sending thick smoke over a wide area and prompting shelter-in-place directives for residents in the communities of Westlake, Moss Bluff and Sulphur, authorities said.
Mayor Robert Hardey of Westlake said the fire was burning at a plant operated by BioLab, a subsidiary of Kik Custom Products, which makes cleaners, antifreeze and other chemical products. A spokesman for the parent company, confirmed in a statement that the fire was the result of storm damage.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Thursday that his state dodged a bullet.
He said there were still no confirmed fatalities in Texas nearly 12 hours after Laura made landfall and the state appeared to have made it through the storm with minimal or no loss of life, terming it a "miracle." Abbott toured the affected areas of East Texas Thursday and described seeing roofs sheared off buildings and uprooted trees following an aerial tour of the damage near their shared border.
He said about 8,500 people were served in Texas shelters, noting that the state minimised potential loss of life because residents in the storm's path heeded local advance warnings to evacuate.
High water levels were persisting along the Gulf Coast. Tornadoes are possible through Thursday night in parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.