By Alicia Pérez
Houston, Aug 27 (efe-epa).- Hurricane Laura, which slammed into the US Gulf Coast in the wee hours of Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 150mph (241km/h), is blamed for four deaths and left 700,000 people without power, but officials expressed relief that the impact from one of the 10 strongest storms on record wasn’t even bigger.
“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute catastrophic damage that we thought was likely based on the forecast we had last night, but we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Laura made landfall at 06.00 GMT as a Category 4 on the ascending five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Within 12 hours, it weakened to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65mph (100km/h), and by 21.00 GMT the winds had fallen to 50mph (85km/h).
“We have thousands and thousands of fellow citizens whose lives are upside down because their businesses and/or their homes have been damaged. And we have lots of challenges to say the least with a variety of things, whether it’s electrical power, water service, you name it, and so we have a lot of work to do. But we are in better shape today than might have been the case. And so we have a lot to be thankful for, as well,” Edwards told Louisianans.
The hurricane caused at least four deaths in the state, the governor said.
“All were related to trees falling on residences, which is in line with this being a major wind event,” he said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
The fatalities include a 14-year-old girl in Leesville, about 95mi (160km) inland.
President Donald Trump, due to accept the Republican Party’s 2020 nomination Thursday night in an address from the White House, said that he will visit the affected area over the weekend.
“I was actually prepared to postpone the speech tonight and make it on Monday,” he told reporters during a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) briefing on the hurricane.
“But now it turned out we got a little bit lucky. It was very big and it was very powerful but it passed quickly, and so, everything is on schedule,” the president said.
Among the most dramatic effects of Laura in Louisiana was a fire at a chemical plant near Lake Charles that led to a release of chlorine gas.
Hours after urging residents in the area to “Shelter in place, close your windows and doors and TURN OFF YOUR AIR CONDITIONING UNITS,” Edwards said that authorities had no reports of injuries or illness in connection with the fire.
In neighboring Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott traveled to Orange County, on the Louisiana border, to survey damage from Laura.
“It could’ve been far worse,” the governor said during a press conference in the town of Orange. “When you consider the magnitude of the damage that did occur here, we did dodge a bullet.”
More than 500,000 residents of coastal Louisiana and Texas evacuated ahead of the powerful storm and authorities in both states organized transportation and lodging for many of those evacuees.
The website PowerOutage.us said that nearly 800,000 customers were without electricity in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas.
While still a tropical disturbance, Laura left 25 people dead on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. EFE