US President Donald Trump received a briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, later saying that he had considered postponing his planned speech at Thursday night’s Republican National Convention but “it turned out we got a bit lucky”.
“It was very big. It was very powerful. But it passed quickly and so everything’s on schedule,” he said.
Authorities are continuing to assess the damage, but so far utility companies have reported more 500,000 people across Texas and Louisiana with power outages; highways have been blocked by fallen trees; and a chemical fire broke out at the BioLab plant in Westlake, resulting in warnings to residents to remain indoors until further notice.
“If you are in the Westlake/Moss Bluff/Sulphur area, shelter in place, close your windows and doors and turn off your air conditioning units,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards tweeted. “There is a chemical fire. Stay inside and wait for additional direction from local officials.”
Fears about Laura’s impact intensified this week, after the National Hurricane Centre warned the storm surge could be “unsurvivable” and would affect townships as far as 64 kilometres inland.
Many residents chose to flee, particularly in the storm’s path, such as the Lake Charles region of Louisiana and Port Arthur in Texas.
Thousands of hotel rooms were made available for people in need, a tactic first used when hurricane Hanna hit Texas in July.
However, coronavirus added a logistical challenge: due to social distancing requirements, the number of buses taking people out of the area had to be increased, while some residents chose not to go to emergency shelters because of health concerns.
In the end, the impact was not as bad as initially feared, but authorities warned people not to be complacent.
“Even as we’re speaking right now, the storm continues to rip through east Texas. And so Texans are in danger,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CBS.
“They need to continue to take cover as tornadoes and heavy storms are ripping through there. East Texas has many tall trees, many of which have been downed already. People need to be very vigilant still as we are speaking.”
Oil and gas prices fell after Laura made landfall in what is essentially America’s oil and gas refinery heartland.
In Lake Charles, a transmission tower belonging to the local ABC news outlet, which had survived hurricane Audrey in 1957 and hurricane Rita in 2005, was decimated by high winds.
Laura made landfall near the small town of Cameron, Louisiana around 48 kilometres from Texas.
Hours before it hit, Vice-President Mike Pence used his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention to urge residents to stay safe, and vowed that the Trump administration would “be with you every step of the way”.
“Our administration is working closely with authorities in states that will be impacted. FEMA has mobilised resources and supplies for those in harm’s way. This is a serious storm, and we urge all of those in affected areas to heed state and local authorities,” Pence said.
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist based in the US for the 2020 presidential election.