Hurricane Laura’s wind and rain created havoc across Acadiana and southwestern Louisiana early Thursday, shutting down power to tens of thousands of homes and leaving debris strewn in her path. Rainfall was measured in some areas at 5-6 inches.

Road travel was impaired across the region, roads made impassible by debris and water.

Interstate 10 was closed most of the morning from the Atchafalaya Basin to the Texas border.

Hundreds of thousands across the state were without power much of the day. By about 5 p.m. Thursday, there were still 7,500 SLEMCO customers, 4,800 Entergy customers; and 8,000 LUS customers without power in Lafayette Parish.

An additional 60-70 workers were arriving Thursday afternoon to assist LUS employees and the extra 80 people who were deployed to help ahead of the storm, according to LUS spokesperson Alex Antonowitsch.

But it could have been so much worse.

Laura, like many storms before it, flooded the Delcambre Canal early Thursday morning, with water more than a foot deep along Church Street and other areas near the channel.

But these floodwaters had a characteristic that brought relief to Chris Esponge, a retired National Guard sergeant and lifelong Delcambre resident. This water was clear, unlike the worst storms of the past, namely Hurricane Rita of 2005.

That meant the storm had splashed water off the top of the canal and moved on, without dumping mud, sugar cane and dead crabs everywhere, said Esponge, who is known for assisting the town’s crisis response after storms.

“It’s one of those things, we are glad we see it. I’m walking on the road, and I can see the yellow stripe,” said Esponge. “For Rita, we had mud and marsh grass stuck in people’s houses that was almost a foot deep, that you had to shovel out.”

With a track and storm surge forecast comparable to Hurricane Rita, residents in Vermilion Parish and other areas of Acadiana feared that Hurricane Laura would bring another historic catastrophe early Thursday morning. Many expected this hurricane might cause even more damage, because it landed overnight as a strong Category 4 packing winds of 150 miles per hour. Hurricane Rita, for all its devastation, weakened to a Category 3 before making landfall.

Hurricane Laura came and went without the devastation similar to 15 years ago. One Iota man died as the result of the storm, but other damage was limited to downed trees, power lines and some flooding. In Vermilion Parish, no rescues were necessary, according to the Sheriff’s Office, and the storm surge was far below the 10-12 feet during Hurricane Rita.

Still, Abbeville was completely blacked out, with no indication of when electricity would return. About 600,000 Louisiana customers were without power as of 3:15 p.m., according to poweroutage.us. Entergy, which services Abbeville’s substation, said 360,000 of its customers lacked power in a four-state service area of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.

“The phone is ringing off the wall, people wanting to know what’s going on with the power,” said Abbeville Mayor Mark Piazza.

In one of the more severe scenes of wreckage in Abbeville, an uprooted tree on North East Street had fallen into power lines, apparently causing three wooden poles snap and fall into the street with it. Yet just down the block, at the corner with East St. Victor Street, Kenneth January said his multi-story home did not have any damage.

January said he only suffered the minor inconvenience of strewn branches, which he picked up while speaking to a reporter.

“Whatever it was, it went over us and hit them down the road,” January said, referring to the downed tree.

In Delcambre, power was not an issue for three generations of the Langlinais family, who huddled up in the family home on along Church Street, a few blocks from the Delcambre Canal.

“The power kind of dimmed twice. We have a generator, but we didn’t have to use it,” Diane Langlinais yelled down from the raised deck, standing next to her husband, Randolf Langlinais.

Across the street, water had crept up past the foundation of another house they own and where their daughter lives. But they said they were not concerned about water damage, since Hurricane Rita — as well as Hurricane Ike in 2008 — had been far higher.

Sheriff Mike Couvillon lifted a curfew he had imposed the night before, and he said in a statement that he is “a very blessed sheriff today.” But he added that “we are not out of the woods yet,” since water in flooded areas had not receded by mid-afternoon.

City Park in Erath was almost completely under water around 9:30 a.m., when workers with the city’s streets department arrived block barricade the entrance.

One of the employees, Kandi Louviere, said they had done the same thing at other public facilities, but that City Park was the last stop.

“We made it,” Louviere said. “All good.”

In addition to the widespread property damage, there was one known fatality related to the storm in Acadiana.

In Acadia Parish, Jimmy Cart, 68, was killed when a roughly 50 to 60-foot pine tree fell on the bedroom he was occupying. The man was dead when firefighters and other emergency responders arrived on scene in the 3500 block of the Eunice-Iota Highway, Iota Volunteer Fire Department Chief David Douget said.

The other people in the home were not injured, Douget said.

The tree was the only one that fell on the property, he said. There was no evidence of a tornado in the area and responders believe a strong wind gust felled the tree.

'It looks like a war zone'

Farther south, the two-lane highways that wind south through Pecan Island and Creole were impassible Thursday morning due to snapped trees and wooden power poles, littering roadways with limbs and electrical lines and blocking access to Laura’s ground zero, the tiny fishing community of Cameron.

Vehicles couldn’t access Pecan Island, and water and debris still covered parts of LA 14 west, but the island was spared the massive storm surge that damaged and destroyed some structures during Hurricane Rita in 2005 and again during Hurricane Ike in 2008.

To the west, LA 27 provides another route to Cameron, but it also was inaccessible Thursday south of the intersection with LA 384. A Cameron Parish Sheriff’s deputy said utility poles and trees made the roadway to Creole and Cameron impossible to travel. It could be days before it’s cleared, he said.

Nearby, in the Cameron Parish community of Sweet Lake, Phillip Whittington and his family sifted through the remains of the mobile home that’s been their home for 11 years. Whittington used to live in Cameron.

“Devastating,” Whittington said, looking around at the debris scattered across his lawn. “It looks like a war zone.”

The chimney blew off the home, the carpet is ruined from the rain, the new shed exploded, Whittington said, and the home wasn’t insured. He’ll try to make the repairs himself, he said, because the family wants to move back in as soon as possible.

“Rita hit us. We went back,” he said. “Ike hit us. We moved up here.”

His wife, April Whittington, recovered a nativity scene from the debris that once was their storage shed. A New Orleans Saints Christmas stocking hung out to dry Thursday afternoon as other Christmas and Mardi Gras decorations peeped out from the pile.

Double-wide mobile homes nearby were turned into single-wides as Laura left them in piles of rubble.

Some areas of southwest Louisiana appeared untouched by Laura’s vicious winds and tornados. In other areas, metal roofs were ripped off, revealing wooden beams beneath. Dark shingles were peeled off other roofs, revealing the lighter wood beneath like a patchwork quilt. Sheets of metal from barns and shed were wrapped around trees or dropped into fields where grazing cattle didn’t seem to notice the difference.

Staff writer Katie Gagliano contributed to this report.


Acadiana Business Today: For many in Acadiana, Laura brought damages but not the likes of Hurricane Rita in 2005


Email Ben Myers at bmyers@theadvocate.com. Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.