Hurricane Laura caused $525.4 million in damage to Louisiana farmers and $1.1 billion to the Louisiana timber industry, according to preliminary estimates by the LSU AgCenter. The Center says 757,538 acres of timber were devastated from the southwest to northeast parts of the state.
Laura formed August 20, hitting Louisiana a week later on the 27th. The storm hit its peak right as it made landfall, reaching winds of 150 mph and killing 37 people. It is tied with 1856’s Last Island Hurricane as the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Lousiana. The storm rapidly weakened as the day progressed – finally dissipating on the 29th.
AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry says the damage in 2005 and this year are different. Laura was more of a wind event, while Katrina and Rita brought flooding along coastal Louisiana. Infrastructure damaged by wind was the big factor this year, and crops were not as affected this year as in 2005.
It may be one of the most damaging storms to agriculture the state has seen.
“It’s going to be up there as one of the highest we’ve ever had,” Guidry said. “Based on the amount of infrastructure damage that occurred and the losses associated with timber, the total economic impact to the food and fiber sector from Hurricane Laura will be as large as or larger than any storm that I have developed estimates for since my time with the AgCenter.”
AgCenter forestry specialist Michael Blazier says regarding timber, Laura is more devastating than Katrina and Rita combined.
“It’s demoralizing. I checked and checked and rechecked the figures, and if anything, it’s conservative,” he said.
Using data from aerial surveys by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Vernon Parish was estimated to have the largest economic loss of timber at $360 million on 160,416 acres, followed by Rapides, Beauregard, Grant and Allen parishes, all estimated to have timber damage exceeding $100 million.
Calcasieu Parish had the highest forestry acreage damage total of 188,292 acres, but the lost timber value was estimated at $76.7 million.
The damage estimate includes national forests as well as privately owned land. Many landowners use timber revenue to supplement their retirement income, and this storm will affect people throughout the state, Blazier said. As an example, he said, one landowner with 42 acres of commercial timber estimated that half of their trees were destroyed.
The heaviest damage tracked the path of the storm’s eye as it went almost all the way to Arkansas as a hurricane. Anecdotal evidence suggests the worst damage occurred in forests that had been thinned recently. “There was just more wind that could come through those stands,” Blazier said.
The AgCenter report determined that only 10% of the downed pine trees can be salvaged and that none of the damaged hardwood trees are salvageable. Blazier said market demand for hardwood pulp is low.
Downed trees in Louisiana’s environment must be salvaged quickly because the wood deteriorates rapidly. “We have a very short window, maybe less than a month,” he said.
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