Battered Louisiana begins recovery after Hurricane Laura as death toll rises to 10
A battered Louisiana began the long process of Hurricane Laura recovery Friday from Cameron to Lake Charles and Alexandria to Monroe even as a widening water crisis emerged with more than 200,000 people with dry spigots and the death toll rose to 10.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he has requested a major disaster declaration from President Trump, who is scheduled to tour the storm damage Saturday or Sunday.
"We're going to need some help," Edwards said.
Parts of coastal Cameron were virtually wiped off the map, while the mayor of Lake Charles, the largest Louisiana city hit by the storm, told residents there many areas may be uninhabitable for weeks.
"'Look and leave' truly is the best option for many," Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in a Facebook post.
Four more storm-related fatalities were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning — and the toll could grow.
At least five people total have died because of carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, Edwards said. Four people were killed by falling trees and one man drowned when his boat sank during the storm.
Edwards conducted an aerial tour of the destruction in central and northern Louisiana Friday after visiting Lake Charles on Thursday.
Though 500,000 remained without power statewide, the biggest concern is 98 broken water systems serving more than 200,000 residents that have dried up. Thousands more have running water that's not fit to drink under boil orders.
Lake Charles Memorial Hospital has been evacuated because of a lack of running water.
"We haven't seen anything on this scale since (Hurricanes) Katrina and Rita," Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman Alyson Neel told USA Today Network.
Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown said thousands of residents streamed through the Charles Garrett Community Center in Jonesboro Friday to secure water from the Louisiana National Guard.
"I’ve got 30 years at the sheriff’s office and I've never seen anything that has impacted the entire parish like this before," Brown said. "This surpasses everything."
Edwards said 6,200 National Guardsmen and women are activated and deployed across the state.
Alexandria, the heart of central Louisiana, "took a direct hit" from Hurricane Laura, said state Sen. Jay Luneau, who was helping neighbors clear downed trees Thursday and Friday with a chain saw and his son.
"'It's a pretty helpless feeling when you're hearing 100-year-old trees snap and praying they aren't falling on your house or your neighbor's," said Luneau, D-Alexandria.
Hurricane force winds lashed and damaged the state as far north as Ruston, which is more than 200 miles from the coast. Ruston is still recovering from a deadly 2019 tornado that killed a mother and son there.
Laura was the first recorded hurricane in Ruston's history.
"The tornado was terrible, a tragedy that we're still working through and mourning, but it had a defined path," Ruston Mayor Ronnie Walker said. "This touched every corner of our city and Lincoln Parish."
Tropical force winds left similar destruction from downed trees and power lines in Monroe and Ouachita Parish, where the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo is closed indefinitely as the storm destroyed exhibits and toppled trees.
"We're a mess, but all animals are safe and accounted for," zoo director Joe Clawson said.
Clawson said the primates were most unnerved by the storm "because they think about it more than the other animals."
Interstate 10 and the Calcasieu Bridge were reopened to traffic Friday afternoon, while Louisiana State Police and Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning said a chemical fire at BioLab in Westlake was under control, allowing them to lift a stay-at-home order for residents.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1