(CN) — As daybreak came Thursday and Hurricane Laura downgraded from a potentially catastrophic Category 4 to a menacing Category 2 storm traveling inland with 100 mph winds, residents along the Texas-Louisiana border who did not evacuate began to take stock of damages.
“Well the worst is over and we are safe,” Trent Gremillion, a historian in Lake Charles, Louisiana, texted Courthouse News shortly before first light.
“Can’t say the same for our house,” Gremillion added. “The pecan tree in our backyard fell on the east side of our home. It also appears to be laying on top of all three vehicles. We’ve spent the last two hours trying to stop all the water pouring through the multiple holes in the roof.”
Images of tall buildings in downtown Lake Charles surfaced on social media and YouTube showing dozens of windows broken out and power towers wrenched in half by the wind. A commenter on Twitter mentioned the sheets of glass that fell over the downtown streets as the windows blew through, sending shattered glass everywhere.
“The damage is pretty intensive,” a narrator on one YouTube video said of the destruction in downtown Lake Charles. “It got blown out. Wow, that’s amazing… looks like there’s water. No idea how deep it is.”
While the narrator, who stood on a parking garage as he filmed, said he could not tell exactly which portions of the city were underwater, he said the Interstate-10 bridge looked to be submerged.
“What a mess!” Lake Charles resident John Chav texted Courthouse News on Thursday morning. “Took several trees to the roof, chasing leaks, tree on my truck and trailer. What a mess!”
Hundreds of thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate from the region in advance of the storm, but not everyone decided to go.
“We know anyone that stayed that close to the coast, we’ve got to pray for them, because looking at the storm surge, there would be little chance of survival,” Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
As of Thursday afternoon, four people in Louisiana had died from trees falling on their homes. None of them lived on the coast, according to Governor John Bel Edwards.
U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told reporters Thursday afternoon his department was monitoring a chemical fire that broke out near Lake Charles and was ready to assist with “specialized technicians” should Governor Edwards request the department’s help.
The fire was the result of a chemical spill at the BioLab chlorine plant in Lake Charles that specializes in pool chemicals. The fire caused thick, black, billowing smoke that wasn’t noticed until around daybreak Thursday morning.
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality workers did not immediately detect chlorine with their handheld devices, agency spokesman Greg Langley told the Associated Press. Authorities ordered residents near the industrial plant to stay in their homes with the doors and windows closed, and I-10 was closed so traffic could be diverted from the area. Emergency crews had a hard time clearing a path through wreckage from Laura to get to the site of the spill.
“Finding a way into it was a bit of a challenge, but they got there,” Langley said.
Brouillette said officials were “cautiously optimistic” after what he stressed were initial assessments of the many oil refineries, plants and other industrial facilities in the regions of Texas and Louisiana affected by the hurricane.
“There is some damage to some of the facilities, but it appears to be somewhat light, it is not significant in nature,” Brouillette said. “Meaning that the operations of these facilities will probably continue in very short order.”