NEW YORK (WABC) -- One of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the U.S., Laura barreled across Louisiana on Thursday, shearing off roofs, killing at least six people and maintaining ferocious strength while carving a destructive path hundreds of miles inland.
Flooding rainfall and damaging winds spread inland over central and northern Louisiana, where the storm made landfall as a Category 4 storm.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center has downgraded Laura to a tropical depression as the storm system crosses Arkansas.
Communities along the Gulf Coast experienced high water levels in the wake of Laura, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. this year. More than 800,000 people in Louisiana and Texas were without power Thursday afternoon. National Weather Service officials said the remnants of Hurricane Laura could spawn tornadoes and cause flash flooding in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.
Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed four deaths in Louisiana from trees falling on residences. The deaths happened in Vernon, Jackson and Acadia Parishes. Another two deaths were confirmed by the Calcasieu parish coroner -- including a 24-year-old man that died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in his home and another male that drowned while inside a boat that sank during the storm.
The top part of a large transmission tower snapped and toppled into the studios of a Lake Charles television news station as Hurricane Laura tore across south Louisiana. The general manager at KPLC-TV said no one was hurt because all staff members had evacuated from the station hours before Laura's landfall. And the staff continued broadcasting storm news uninterrupted from sister stations elsewhere in Louisiana. The station published photographs online showed part of the tower punched through the roof of the building, and piles of debris scattered inside the broadcast studio. KPLC-TV General Manager John Ware said Thursday that the media outlet would continue to deliver its regular newscasts while it rebuilds.
Threats continue after nightfall
Threats from the remnants of Hurricane Laura are continuing hundreds of miles inland and well after nightfall. Forecasters have issued a string of tornado warnings for Mississippi and Arkansas, where Laura is now a tropical storm. No major damage has been reported from twisters, but tornadoes can be particularly dangerous at night. The National Weather Service says Laura could dump as much as 7 inches of rain on Arkansas as it continues moving north away from Louisiana, where it made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane early Thursday.
Damage less than predicted in Louisiana
A full assessment of the damage wrought by the Category 4 system was likely to take days. But despite a trail of demolished buildings, entire neighborhoods left in ruins and more than 875,000 people without power, a sense of relief prevailed that Laura was not the annihilating menace forecasters had feared.
Trump to visit the Gulf
After a fundraiser, President Trump took a short drive to FEMA headquarters in Washington for a briefing on Hurricane Laura, where officials briefed him about the damage and federal response so far. Trump said he had considered delaying his RNC acceptance speech tonight but ultimately didn't have to.
"It turned out we got a little bit lucky," he said. "It was very big, it was very powerful, but it passed quickly."
He said he'll visit the Gulf Coast "very shortly," likely on either Saturday afternoon or Sunday. The visit would include Texas and Louisiana and potentially an additional stop, he said.
Chemical plant fire in Louisiana
A fire at a Louisiana chlorine plant erupted with thick, billowing smoke Thursday after Hurricane Laura plowed through part of the country's petrochemical corridor with storm surges and fierce wind, forcing residents around the plant to shelter in their homes. The damage came three years to the month after the record rains of Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston's refineries, storage tanks and chemical plants, unleashing dozens of toxic spills into surrounding communities' air, land and water. State and federal aircraft were heading into the air over the battered Louisiana coast Thursday, looking for signs of any other industrial damage or releases from Laura. At Lake Charles, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality workers with hand-held monitors did not immediately detect chlorine releases from the fire at the BioLab plant, agency spokesman Greg Langley said.
Teen killed in Louisiana
Gov. John Bel Edwards said the first fatality from Hurricane Laura in Louisiana was a 14-year-old girl who died when a tree fell on her home. The governors of Louisiana and Texas say search and rescue teams are still looking, but they've found reports so far of widespread fatalities.
Where is Laura now
Damage in Louisiana
Reports are coming in from people who rode out Hurricane Laura in Louisiana. Brett Geymann lives in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles, and said the eye of the storm passed directly over them. He says his house survived but every other building, structure and tree on his property is gone. Geymann says his family's OK but "there's destruction all around" them. He says "It looks like 1,000 tornadoes" came through, with some houses "totally gone." Drone video in the Lake Charles area shows water surrounding homes with large parts of their roofs peeled off, hotels with rooms exposed and giant trees uprooted.
Help from the Tri-State
Early Thursday morning, a task force from Wall Township, New Jersey, was already on the way, and Eyewitness News was there as the convoy of trucks rolled out, en route to Baton Rouge. The search and rescue team is highly skilled and trained to respond to federal emergencies, and the same team was dispatched last year to provide relief during Hurricane Dorian.
WILL WE BE IMPACTED BY HURRICANE LAURA?
Forecasters expected a weakened Laura to cause widespread flash flooding in states far from the coast. An unusual tropical storm warning was issued as far north as Little Rock, where forecasters expected gusts of 50 mph (80 kph) and a deluge of rain through Friday.
Laura will quickly track to the east coast by the weekend. We could see some storms on Saturday. Check the latest AccuWeather forecast here.
The storm was so powerful that it could regain strength after turning east and reaching the Atlantic Ocean, potentially threatening the densely populated Northeast.