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Louisiana Begins Recovery After Hurricane Laura Batters Coast

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The remnants of Hurricane Laura are currently drenching Tennessee and Kentucky. Laura came ashore on the western coast of Louisiana, slamming into the city of Lake Charles. Falling trees killed several people, including a 14-year-old girl who died in her home.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: NPR's Wade Goodwyn surveyed the damage in Iowa, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAILROAD CROSSING BELLS SOUNDING)

GOODWYN: Forget about blown off roofs or billboards ripped to shreds or, to go full cliche, tens of thousands of pine trees snapped like matchsticks. If you want to understand the power of Hurricane Laura and its 150 mph winds, the truth is revealed at the railroad crossing on North Thompson Avenue in Iowa, just down from the Market Basket. The crossing gates are in the down position but not across the road - they're parallel to it. The red lights are flashing, but the hurricane's bent each round metal fixture 90 degrees away from its twin. And the bells just keep ringing, only there's no train. It was Laura coming through.

SCOOTER LEWIS: We came back this morning as soon as we could from where we evacuated to, which we actually had to cut our way back to get here.

GOODWYN: Scooter Lewis is the fire chief of this town of 4,000 people. When he realized the hurricane eyewall was going to smash into Iowa, he got his men and his two fire trucks 50 miles north, where they rode it out. Lewis got back at daybreak to find Fire Station No. 1 destroyed.

S LEWIS: It tore the brick off. It tore the roof off. It lifted the truck bay's roof. I mean, it tore everything. I have a skylight in my truck bay now.

GOODWYN: A couple of miles away is a mobile home park. If you want to pick a place to ride out a Category 4 hurricane, there are few places less desirable.

GREG LEWIS: My wife went - she got a motel. I was - I said I ain't - I'm going to stay here.

GOODWYN: Greg Lewis lost his nerve just after 1 a.m., as Laura slammed into his double wide. With nowhere to run and no place inside to hide, he went outside and crouched down behind his brick and concrete steps. And that's where he stayed for the next nine hours, getting hammered by the windblown rain.

G LEWIS: It was the noisiest I have ever heard in my life, and it never quit. Them tornadoes that's come through, I could hear them coming. And all I was thinking about was, is it to have (ph) ripped these steps off?

GOODWYN: Was there a moment when you were regretting your choices?

G LEWIS: Every minute, every minute. I won't do it again.

GOODWYN: A few doors down, Lou Summers (ph) hosted eight people and six dogs in her mobile home. She says the dogs had been antsy all day Wednesday then got on the master bed as the storm hit.

LOU SUMMERS: I mean, just - you almost felt like the whole mobile home did a - like a rollercoaster. I mean, you just felt pressure everywhere. And I have a pantry in there where I put four ladies...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Three.

SUMMERS: ...Three ladies. And then the rest of us laid in the hallway. And it was horrible.

GOODWYN: But Hurricane Laura didn't really care what type of house you lived in.

(SOUNDBITE OF POWER TOOL WHIRRING)

GOODWYN: South of Lake Charles, Patrick Bright is cutting branches off a massive tree that has crushed his dad's pickup.

PATRICK BRIGHT: You could feel the house shaking. The roof, we could feel it get pulled off, then the water started coming in. It was very different. I was here for a little bit of Rita. Last time - when that happened in 2005, they worried about the water. This time, it's more, as you can see, the wind just tore everything up.

GOODWYN: The damage from Hurricane Laura is expected to be counted in the billions of dollars.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Iowa, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.