Laura, downgraded to tropical storm, continues rampage inland (with forecast video)

Satellite animation of Tropical Storm Laura over the lower Mississippi Valley.

At least four deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Laura, according to Louisiana officials.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the deaths occurred in Vernon, Jackson and Acadia parishes. They were all related to trees falling on homes.

An official with the governor’s office confirms that a 14-year-old girl died after a tree fell on her family’s home. No details were immediately available.

In Iota, Acadia Parish Sheriff K.P. Gibson confirmed that a 60-year-old man also died from a fallen tree.

Edwards announced during his 1 p.m. press conference Thursday that two additional people were also killed.

At the time of landfall early Thursday morning, Hurricane Laura was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Louisiana in modern history, surpassed only by Hurricane Camille, which hit Plaquemines Parish in 1969.

The most extensive wind damage from Laura is in Lake Charles, on the eastern side of the hurricane’s eye. Lake Charles is in Calcasieu Parish, in the southwestern part of Louisiana, about 50 miles east of Port Arthur, Texas, and has a population of around 72,000 people based on the 2010 census.

Laura blew out a large number of windows in the 22-story Capital One Tower, the second-tallest building in Lake Charles. Many homes and other businesses suffered major damage.

The hurricane mangled cell phone towers, and it knocked down power lines as well as the Doppler radar at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Lake Charles.

More than 850,000 customers across Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas had no electricity as of 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, according to the PowerOutage.US website. Around 627,000 of them are in Louisiana.

Laura weakened to a tropical storm Thursday afternoon, and high water which inundated parts of the Gulf Coast was expected to recede later Thursday evening and into the night. Laura’s sustained winds were 65 mph as of 2 p.m. EDT. It will gradually weaken even more as it moves farther inland but will continue to cause problems on the roads.

Tropical storm force winds (39 to 73 mph) will continue to spread into northern Louisiana and portions of Arkansas through Thursday evening.

Through Friday, Laura is expected to produce additional rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches across portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, with isolated storm totals of 18 inches in portions of Louisiana.

This rainfall will continue to cause widespread flash flooding and urban flooding, small streams and creeks to overflow their banks, and minor to moderate freshwater river flooding.

Through Saturday, Laura is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches of rainfall with isolated maximum amounts of 5 inches across the mid-Mississippi Valley, portions of the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys, the central Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic States.

Tornadoes could develop over parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi. The risk for tornadoes will shift into the Mid-South and Tennessee Valley regions Friday.

Major ports and roads remain closed in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, including parts of Interstate 10 because of storm damage and a leak at a chemical plant.

United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) continues to suspend booking and movement of cargo at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (ICAO code: IAH) in Houston until 11:59 p.m. CDT Thursday, and some truck stops in the hurricane’s impact zone may still be closed.

Due to disruptions to the freight market from Hurricane Laura, FreightWaves is providing free access to key features of SONAR through Friday, September 4. Click here to learn more.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.