Hundreds of miles inland from the battered Gulf Coast, Laura – now a tropical depression – dumped heavy rain across the Deep South Friday and threatened to spin off deadly tornadoes as it turned eastward for a weekend race toward the mid-Atlantic states.
The National Hurricane Center warned of possible tornadoes Friday evening across parts of the Mid-South and Tennessee Valley regions.
Laura was also expected to dump up to 5 inches of rain in parts of the region, from Arkansas to central Kentucky, on Friday. It also was threatening to bring flash floods across portions of the central and southern Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic States on Saturday.
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As one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Laura was blamed for six deaths as it roared across Louisiana and parts of Texas after going ashore early Thursday.
The new threat of tornadoes comes less than a day after a reported tornado destroyed a church and homes in northeastern Arkansas. Trees were reported down and power was out where what was left of the once fearsome Category 4 hurricane, packing 150-mph winds, slammed into the state.
No injuries were immediately reported. Around 45,000 customers were without electricity in Arkansas early Friday.
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While Louisiana was spared the forecast “unsurvivable” storm surge as it barreled ashore, entire neighborhoods in some areas were left in ruins and hundreds of thousands and businesses were without power along the coast as authorities began to survey the area.
“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage.”
He called Laura the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, stronger than even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005. Its top wind speed of 150 mph put it among the strongest systems on record in the U.S.
Laura was not downgraded from hurricane status until it pushed into Arkansas, more than 10 hours after making landfall. But even as a tropical storm, Laura battered the states with winds of 40 mph.
In Lake Charles, an industrial and casino city of 80,000 people in southern Louisiana, many buildings were knocked down and windows blown out by the storm.
Officials had voted to keep it:Hurricane Laura damages Confederate monument in Louisiana
A Confederate statue in front of a courthouse that local officials had voted to keep in place just days earlier was knocked down by Laura.
“It looks like 1,000 tornadoes went through here. It’s just destruction everywhere,” said Brett Geymann, who rode out the storm with three relatives in Moss Bluff, near Lake Charles. He described a roar like a jet engine as Laura passed over his house around 2 a.m.
“There are houses that are totally gone,” he said.
In addition to the widespread destruction, a fire from a leak at a chemical plant sent a massive plume of smoke stretching for miles in the area, prompting authorities to warn residents to close their doors and windows.
The fatalities included a 14-year-old girl and a 68-year-old man killed by falling trees in Louisiana and a 24-year-old man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his residence. Another man drowned in a boat that sank during the storm, authorities said.
No deaths had been confirmed in Texas, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called “a miracle.”
Contributing: Associated Press