Record-setting Hurricane Laura kills 4, leaves trail of destruction across Louisiana

Floods and downed power lines surround damaged homes in Holly Beach, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura came ashore Aug. 27.
Floods and downed power lines surround damaged homes in Holly Beach, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura came ashore Aug. 27. (Image credit: Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

Hurricane Laura barrelled ashore in southwestern Louisiana in the dark hours of the morning (Aug. 27) as a category 4 storm. Right before landfall, it became the strongest Gulf hurricane since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Laura, now weakened to a tropical storm, is headed northeast, but the storm surge it left behind may not recede for days.

Today's sunrise revealed flooding and wind damage across the region. The Associated Press reported this morning that stranded people in the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city in the storm's path, were calling for help but hadn't received aid yet, as first responders in the region were also trapped indoors.

 At least four people in the state died as a result of the hurricane, including a 14-year-old girl who was killed when a tree fell on her family's house in Leesville, Louisiana, according to The storm previously killed 20 people in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, according to The Weather Channel. It also caused major flooding in Puerto Rico, where two teenagers narrowly escaped drowning after spending hours trapped on a rock amid floodwaters, according to El Nuevo Dia.

Over 850,000 are without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, according to

The total extent of the storm's damage to the Louisiana and southeastern Texas coasts is still unclear as rain and high winds continue to trail through the region. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasts stated that an "unsurvivable" storm surge could penetrate up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) inland and not recede for days. 

Laura did not move toward Houston as originally projected. Instead, the storm tracked northeast across Louisiana and is now poised to enter Arkansas. Meanwhile, a "life threatening storm surge" at the coastal border of Texas and Louisiana continued as of 8 a.m. ET, according to the NHC.

At its overnight landfall, Laura was a category 4 storm with 150 mph (240 kph) winds. That makes it the most intense storm ever to hit Louisiana in at least 170 years. At its most powerful, just before landfall, Laura had strengthened into a category 5 storm, recording the strongest winds in the Gulf of Mexico since Katrina's pre-landfall peak.

During landfall, National Weather Service flood gauges recorded storm surges over 10 feet (3 meters) in the worst-hit areas. Wind gusts reached up to 132 mph (212 kph) in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the largest population center in the storm's path.

Related: Hurricane season: How long it lasts and what to expect

Reporters and residents shared footage overnight of intense winds lifting heavy debris into the air and ripping material off of buildings.

Flash flooding will be a major ongoing threat along rivers and streams in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, according to the NHC.

Heavy rainfall, flash flooding and urban floods will threaten parts of southern Ohio, Tennessee and the mid-Atlantic states Friday and Saturday as the storm moves northeast, according to the NHC.

Multiple studies have shown that powerful hurricanes like Laura are becoming more common in this era of dramatic climate change, Live Science previously reported.

Severe storms such as this one, along with the major wildfires that have forced evacuations in four western states this month, make controlling the spread of the coronavirus epidemic even more difficult, Live Science previously reported.

Laura set the record for the earliest 13th tropical cyclone in a year; typically, the 13th storm doesn't form until at least September. With three more months of hurricane season left, meteorologists expect that 2020 will continue to be busy with whirling storms. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.