Lake Charles (United States) (AFP) -
Hurricane Laura tore roofs off buildings and blew out windows in the southern US state of Louisiana as it slammed into the coast early Thursday killing at least one person, with shaken residents emerging to survey the damage.
Forecasters warned of the continued risk of a 'life-threatening' storm surge as the hurricane -- one of the strongest to ever hit the region -- moved inland and weakened rapidly.
Television footage showed windows in office buildings in the city of Lake Charles being blown out by ferocious gusts that also uprooted trees and road signs.
Streets were flooded, debris flew through the air and some buildings were left submerged by water or partially destroyed.
More than half a million people were without power in Louisiana and neighboring Texas, according to the PowerOutage.us site.
'The threat Laura poses to Louisiana is ongoing. Stay home, continue to heed the warnings and instructions of local officials,' tweeted Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
He told MSNBC that one girl died when a tree fell on her home in the Leesville area of the state.
The National Hurricane Center said Thursday a storm surge 'with large and destructive waves' could still impact 40 miles (65 kilometers) inland and that flood water would not recede for several days.
The NHC had earlier warned of an 'unsurvivable' storm surge as evacuation orders were issued for hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents.
'Hurricane Laura remains a deadly hurricane with devastating coastal storm surges, destructive winds, and flash flooding,' the White House said in a statement, adding President Donald Trump vowed to deploy all necessary resources to help those in need.
- Monster storm -
Satellite images revealed the immense size of the hurricane as it made landfall as a Category 4 storm at around 1:00am (0600 GMT) near the town of Cameron, close to the border with Texas, packing sustained winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) an hour.
Between five to 10 inches (13 to 26 cms) of rain was expfected in parts of the Gulf Coast between Wednesday and Friday.
By Thursday morning, the hurricane had weakened to a Category 1 storm.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott had warned Laura's power was 'unprecedented' and told citizens to 'get out of harm's way.'
'Your property can be replaced,' Abbott said. 'Your life cannot.'
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on the third night of the Republican Party convention, urged people in the storm's path to 'heed state and local authorities.'
Coronavirus loomed over the emergency response, with authorities trying to ensure that evacuees use hand sanitizer, get their temperatures taken and maintain a distance of six feet.
The National Guard mobilized more than 1,000 members in Texas, including 20 aircraft personnel and more than 15 shelter teams.
One evacuee in Lake Charles, Patricia Como, said other family members had stayed behind but she was 'not going to take a chance.'
'I'm not going to play with the good lord,' Como said.
In New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the historic French Quarter was empty of tourists. Sandbags were piled up in front of the doorways of colonial-style buildings and windows were boarded up with plywood.
The city remains traumatized from Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm, flooding 80 percent of the city and killing more than 1,800 people.
Laura earlier caused flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, killing at least 25 people.
The Atlantic storm season, which runs through November, could be one of the busiest ever this year, with the NHC predicting as many as 25 named storms. Laura is the 12th so far.