Hurricane Laura Power Outages Could Last at Least a Month
LOUISIANA—September 1, 2020—Hurricane Laura, Louisiana’s strongest storm since 1856, wreaked havoc across the state, tearing apart homes, knocking out water service, and damaging the state’s power grid. With 150 mph winds, heavy rain, and a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet, Hurricane Laura contributed to the deaths of at least 17 people in Louisiana and Texas, according to CNN.
More than 63,000 customers in Texas and nearly 300,000 people in Louisiana were still without power as of Monday afternoon, according to Weather.com. CNN reports that parts of the power infrastructure in Louisiana will have to be rebuilt from scratch. The hard-hit Lake Charles area relies on seven transmission line corridors to feed its power, but all seven were massively damaged with more than 500 individual towers down. More than 17,000 linemen from across the country are working on repairs, but the work involved is staggering, according to Weather.com. Customers facing Louisiana’s extreme heat and humidity this time of year are being told power may not be restored for four to five weeks, if not longer.
In addition to the power outages, more than 180,000 people have lost water service with Lake Charles again among the most affected. Both the power outages and the uprooted trees that tore open water lines are contributing to the water outage, and all these lines will have to be repaired to restore water access. CNN reports that many lines are on private property, but if residents have evacuated, they aren’t there to report the leaks for repair.
With heat indexes in some areas reaching 105 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, the extended loss of power and water is a significant health concern amid a recovery already fraught with COVID-19 health concerns. Restoration and reconstruction efforts will be slowed by the lack of power, meaning many displaced residents are in need of shelter and aid. NPR reports the large shelters that emergency response plans relied on in the past must operate at reduced capacity and cities are turning to hotels to shelter people. Many cities distributed hotel vouchers, but some evacuees have had to pay their own way and hope to be reimbursed later through state or federal aid programs. Amid an economic crisis, many people don’t have the financial resources to pay for extended hotel stays. COVID-19 presents unique challenges for first responders and volunteers as well with teams juggling PPE, health screenings, social distancing measures, and COVID-19 testing in an effort to stay healthy while also providing aid to evacuees.
In sweltering heat and facing weeks-long power outages, many residents are turning to portable generators for power, but these carry their own risks. Of the 17 storm-related deaths, eight are people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using generators in Louisiana, according to CNN. The generators produce the odorless gas, and when operated in enclosed areas or near doors and windows, the gas can accumulate inside and reach toxic levels.
August 28, 2020
Hurricane Laura Pummels Louisiana, Killing Six People
LOUISIANA—Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday in Cameron, La. near the Texas border as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history. The category 4 storm killed at least six people and has left widespread flooding, wind damage, and power and water outages in its wake, according to CBS News. Now downgraded to a tropical depression, Laura continues to pound Arkansas with damaging wind and heavy rain as it tracks east across the U.S.
Hurricane Laura made landfall with sustained winds of 150 mph, just 7 mph shy of category 5 classification. The winds tore apart houses, peeled roofs from buildings, and downed trees and power lines across the state. Four of the deaths were due to fallen trees. Nearly the entire state of Louisiana experienced tropical storm-force winds which extended 105 miles from Laura’s center, according to NPR.
Though the worst of Hurricane Laura’s damage was from wind, heavy rain and storm surge also brought widespread flooding and a continued threat of flash floods as the storm moves through Arkansas. Forecasters expect parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas to receive 6-12 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 18 inches, according to NPR. Early readings suggest a storm surge of at least 11 feet in some coastal areas, and officials expect it will take days for the floodwaters to recede.
Nearly one million customers in Louisiana and Texas are without power and more than 220,000 in Louisiana, including much of the hard-hit city of Lake Charles, face water outages, according to CBS News. A chemical plant in Westlake, La. caught fire due to storm damage, prompting shelter-in-place orders as firefighters worked to control the blaze, according to The New York Times. Several highly industrialized areas were in the path of the storm, including the Lake Charles area which is a major petrochemical center and the Texas towns of Port Arthur and Beaumont, home to several oil refineries. When these plants are damaged, there is a risk of releasing toxic chemicals into the air, water, and soil, according to The New York Times.