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LAKE CHARLES- Louisiana National Guard gather in the rain in a parking lot to plan recovery efforts on Friday, August 28, 2020 in Lake Charles following Hurricane Laura. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday he is concerned about the impact of Hurricane Laura on the spread of the coronavirus in Louisiana.

Edwards said southwest Louisiana was the hottest region in the state for positive cases of the virus even before the historic storm slammed into Cameron Parish near Lake Charles around 1 a.m. Thursday.

In addition, about 3,000 residents of the region who fled the storm were huddled in hotels Thursday night.

Edwards said those citizens "are scattered all over the state taking shelter. Many more are with relatives and friends."

"We don't know exactly what that is going to look like," he said, referring to the impact on the virus.

About 6,200 members of the National Guard were helping with storm recovery Friday, many of whom have been assisting with testing for the virus amid the resumption of public and private schools and colleges and universities.

"This is a very bad week for us not to be doing robust testing," Edwards said, noting that hospitalizations were up Friday compared to Thursday.

"I am a little bit more concerned," he said.

Edwards made his comments in Ruston during a tour of central and north Louisiana and the storm damages sustained in those areas.

As of Friday morning power outages totaled 543,000 across southwest, central and north Louisiana.

Another 209,000 residents were affected by water outages sparked by the storm, knocking out 82 water systems and triggering a "rolling series of evacuations" in some nursing homes.

The governor, in a letter to President Donald J. Trump, on Friday requested a major disaster declaration for 23 parishes affected by the storm, including Calcasieu, Cameron, Acadia and Vermilion parishes.

That request should pave the the way for assistance for individuals and communities affected by the storm, including thousands displaced from their homes.

"We have got a long way to go with this emergency," Edwards said.

The governor announced earlier this week that he was extending Phase 2 for the recovery of the state's economy for another two weeks.

He said it is too soon to tell whether the upheaval caused by the hurricane will force the state to remain in Phase 2 when the outlook is reassessed in September.

"It is just not possible for me to tell you what we are going to do in two weeks," Edwards said.

The governor also announced that the death toll from Hurricane Laura has risen to 10, including four who died when trees fell on homes, one who drowned in a boat and five people who died from carbon monoxide linked to the use of generators.

Aside from the 10 storm-related deaths state officials Friday announced 30 more deaths from the virus.

"When you put them both together it is extremely challenging," Edwards said.

In response to a question, Edwards said Hurricane Laura was more powerful than Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans 15 years ago Saturday.

He said Laura arrived with winds of 150 miles per hour – seven miles per hour below the marker for a Category 5 hurricane – and featured storm surges of 15 feet.

"It wasn't really Katrina that did the damage," Edwards said of the 2005 storm.

"That was a failure of the levees. New Orleans sits in a bowl. When the levees failed that bowl filled up with water."

Hurricane Laura was the most powerful storm to make landfall in Louisiana and the fifth strongest in the U.S.

While Hurricane Laura's path into central and north Louisiana was unusual, Edwards said the damages were nowhere near what he saw in the Lake Charles area on Thursday.

He said power restoration should be a matter of hours and days in those regions compared to weeks in some parts of Calcasieu and other southwest Louisiana parishes.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.