'Long road' ahead to rebuild after Hurricane Laura, Louisiana governor says
Storm claimed 21 lives and left hundreds of thousands without power and access to safe water
Power crews are working to restore electricity across storm-devastated Louisiana, road crews are clearing debris, and thousands of tarps are to be distributed to patch over wrecked roofs.
But Gov. John Bel Edwards cautioned his state's residents on Wednesday to be realistic about "the long road ahead of us" to recover from Hurricane Laura.
"There's been an awful lot of progress made in terms of the resources being brought to bear," the governor said at a news conference. But "there's still a very, very long way to go, however," he added.
Two more deaths were reported on Wednesday, increasing the storm's U.S. death toll to 21.
More than 230,000 people in Louisiana remained without power Wednesday, six days after Laura ravaged the state, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
In addition to power outages, the state Health Department said more than 175,000 people faced water outages, while hundreds of thousands more had to boil their water to make it safe for use.
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Edwards urged people, particularly in hardest-hit southwestern Louisiana, to follow the guidance of their local authorities on when it's safe to return home and stay there, with estimates that places like Cameron Parish could wait weeks before splintered transmission lines could be rebuilt.
That means there could be no operating grocery stores, gas stations or pharmacies for people wanting to go back to their communities.
"We do hope and expect that more people over time will be able to return home ... but practically speaking, it's just not going to be possible until basic services are restored," the governor said.
Laura roared ashore last Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane just south of Lake Charles near Cameron, La., packing 240 km/h winds and a storm surge as high as 4½ metres in some areas. State officials have called it the most powerful storm ever to hit Louisiana.
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Twenty-one deaths in Louisiana and Texas have been attributed to the storm. Seventeen of those were in Louisiana, including two in Beauregard Parish added to the list Wednesday. Louisiana's state Health Department said a 36-year-old man and a woman in her 80s died of heat-related illnesses tied to the storm.
The number of people relying on the state for shelter ticked upward Wednesday to about 11,500 people — most of them in hotels, particularly in New Orleans. Edwards said the state believes as many as 10,000 people from Louisiana are sheltering in Texas facilities, and the state was trying to get a full accounting.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 16 Louisiana parishes for aid to individual households, recently adding seven more parishes to the list. More than 80,000 people have registered for the aid so far, according to the governor's office.
Despite the grim acknowledgement of a long recovery, the governor sought to offer some hope: "We're going to get through this, and on the other side of it we're going to be better and stronger than we've ever been."