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Edwards on Laura: 'Long road' to rebuild southwest Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Power crews were working to restore electricity across storm-devastated Louisiana, road crews were clearing debris and thousands of tarps were being distributed to patch over wrecked roofs. But Gov. John Bel Edwards cautioned his state's residents 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 he added: “There’s still a very, very long way to go, however.”

More than 230,000 utility customers in Louisiana, about 11% of customers, remained without power Wednesday, six days after Laura ravaged the state, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. That included nearly every customer in Cameron, Calcasieu and Beauregard parishes.

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.

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 Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane just south of Lake Charles near Cameron, Louisiana, packing 150 mph (240 km/h) winds and a storm surge as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some areas. State officials have called it the most powerful storm ever to hit Louisiana.

Nineteen deaths in Louisiana and Texas have been attributed 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.”

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MelindaDeslatte.

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