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Hurricane Laura downgraded to tropical storm after making landfall

Here are the latest updates on Hurricane Laura.

Laura was downgraded to a tropical storm Thursday afternoon, after making landfall in Louisiana near the Texas border overnight as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.

That made Laura the most intense hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana in 164 years, since what was called the Last Island Storm in 1856. It is also tied for the strongest hurricane on record to ever hit the state. The storm surge topped 10 feet in parts of western Louisiana, far less than the maximum prediction of 15-20 feet. The highest water levels were seen to the right of the storm's center, over a wildlife refuge area, sparing the more densely populated areas in the region.

East Texas was able to avoid the worst of the storm, which was expected to weaken to a tropical depression overnight. At least six deaths in Louisiana have been attributed to Laura, including a 14-year-old girl from Vernon Parish.

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Louisiana officials report first death from Hurricane Laura

Louisiana officials announced the first reported death from Hurricane Laura on Thursday.

A teenage girl was killed when a tree fell on a home in Vernon Parish, 75 miles north of Lake Charles, the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness confirmed to NBC News. 

Officials did not specify when the teenager was struck.

Photos: Flooding and damage in Texas

Flooding caused by Hurricane Laura in Sabine Pass, Texas.Eric Thayer / Getty Images
Downed power lines in Sabine Pass, Texas. Eric Gay / AP

Hurricane Laura downgraded to a Category 2 after making landfall

Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 near Cameron, Louisiana, early Thursday morning, has been downgraded to a Category 2 with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, according to an update from the National Hurricane Center. 

It is located 20 miles north of Fort Polk, Louisiana, and is moving north at 15 mph. Much of the state is dealing with heavy rain and winds, and a tornado watch is in effect until 9 a.m. local time. Eleven million people are under flash flood watches from Louisiana up through western Kentucky. 

Laura is being felt across a swath of the state, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 175 miles. 

Forecasters say that Laura will continue to weaken to a tropical storm Thursday as it continues to move inland. By Friday, it is expected to be a tropical depression and could push heavy rain and strong winds into portions of the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast will see some rain on Saturday as Laura exits off the coast.

 

 

Red Cross spokesperson: More than 600 volunteers were sent for 'catastrophic' hurricane

Storm surge doesn’t appear to be as high as forecast

The storm surge from Laura that hit parts of Louisiana and Texas was brutal — but not as bad as expected.

The highest storm surge seen so far was just over 11 feet at the Calcasieu Pass tide gauge — a massive amount of water, but lower than the Wednesday prediction from the National Hurricane Center of 15 to 20 feet. 

There are a few reasons the peak predications of the surge didn’t materialize.

First, a 15-20 foot surge was the worst-case scenario prediction, but it wasn’t guaranteed to get that high.

Laura also made landfall after high tide, when the water was starting to recede. This likely prevented the surge from growing as much as it could've.

And forecasters believe Laura’s slight shift east before landfall might have fended off the worst possibilities. The new path it took could mean water wasn’t pushed straight up the river and into Lake Charles.

Lastly, it might be too soon to know the extend of the surge, since the stormed landed in the middle of the night, amid widespread power outages and almost entirely evacuated neighborhoods. We may never fully know the extent of the surge. The eastward shift in the track pushed the highest surge potential into a mostly uninhabited part of the Louisiana coast with few sensors for direct measurement. It’s also early and the storm still ongoing.

Laura is going to be a 'real troublemaker' as it moves north

Hurricane Laura is going to be "a real troublemaker" as it moves north, Al Roker said on "TODAY" on Thursday morning.

Even as a Category 2 storm, the hurricane's winds are still extremely powerful, which could bring down power lines and trees, Roker said.

He also said power outages may extend north into the Ohio River Valley, and a tornado watch is in effect from central Louisiana to southeastern Texas.

Louisiana official fears Laura will bring "the same damage" as Katrina

Scott Trahan, an official in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, told the "TODAY" show Thursday morning that it’s “still blowing, still raining” hours after Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm. 

“I’m afraid we’re going to have the same damage we had last time,” he said, referring to Hurricane Katrina. Trahan said Laura brings back memories of that 2005 Category 5 hurricane.

"A few houses might make it, most of them will probably be gone," Trahan said.

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More than 450,000 households lose power in Louisiana and Texas

The number of households reported without power in Louisiana and Texas continued to grow Thursday morning.

More than 450,000 were without power after Hurricane Laura made landfall with extremely high winds.

More than 380,000 had no power in Louisiana and over 90,000 in Texas as of 6:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. ET), according to PowerOutage.us, a project created to track, record, and aggregate power outages across the U.S.

Video shows roof coming out of a hotel in Lake Charles

Video provided by NBC Little Rock affiliate KARK shows the storm's powerful winds blowing off a roof in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

'Absolutely catastrophic': American Red Cross volunteers on hand to help

As Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Gulf Coast and tore inland Thursday morning, hundreds of American Red Cross volunteers stood ready to help, the organization's spokesperson said.

The Red Cross has more than 600 volunteers deployed up and down the Gulf Coast. It has also partnered with local organizations to help with shelters, and needed cots, blankets and personal protective equipment for displaced residents coping with a major hurricane amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“This storm is everything they said it would be, absolutely catastrophic," MaryJane Mudd, a spokesperson for the organization, told MSNBC.