New Orleans tornadoes leave a path of destruction

NEW ORLEANS – Search and rescue teams inspected heavily damaged homes and debris-filled streets on Wednesday after tornadoes ripped thro...


NEW ORLEANS – Search and rescue teams inspected heavily damaged homes and debris-filled streets on Wednesday after tornadoes ripped through the New Orleans area the night before, killing at least one resident and cutting off the electricity to thousands of people.

the National Weather Service confirmed early Wednesday that two tornadoes had hit the area: one in Lacombe, north of the city across Lake Pontchartrain, and another that ripped through both the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans and the parish of Saint-Bernard, sending several people to the hospital.

Rescuers from the National Guard, state police and others spent the night sifting through the destruction, looking for residents who might have been trapped.

Guy McInnis, president of St. Bernard Parish, said seven local residents were treated for minor injuries at a hospital on Tuesday evening.

When the sun rose on Wednesday, Mr McInnis said in an interview that he was grateful for the clear weather, which would aid response efforts. “And the next thought was, how did no one else die in this event?” he said. “It’s just amazing what these tornadoes do.”

Mr McInnis said authorities had found major damage to 40 to 50 buildings by mid-morning, although assessments were still ongoing. The destruction, he said, was concentrated on a two-mile stretch in the Arabi community.

There, the streets were littered with scraps of wood and wire, clumps of grass from the nearby swamp, and puffs of pink insulation. Classes at Arabi Elementary School have been canceled, although other schools in the parish are open and running normal hours.

John Bauman, a local plumber, gloomily inspected the scene Wednesday morning.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen this,” he said. His Success Street block had remained virtually untouched. In his neighbour’s garden, the roof of a shed had blown off. But a block away, around a short curve, the damage was severe.

Mr Bauman, 45, pointed to a cottage with jagged roof rafters and walls splaying downwards.

“Looks like they were at home – their two vehicles are here,” he said, wondering aloud about the fate of the residents. “How did they go? How did they manage to pass?

Another house, where Mr. Bauman had once worked on the pipes, had no roof at all. The insulation hung over two walls like a pink feather boa.

Two doors down, a house had blown up in the middle of the street, carrying a young girl who was dependent on a ventilator, officials said.

Aaron Ledet, 44, said Tuesday night that when he heard the wind he headed for the bathroom. “I just put my family in the tub and prayed,” he said. Once the gusts stopped, he got out and found himself among neighbors and firefighters who rescued the young girl from her home.

Similar scenes unfolded in the parish of Saint-Bernard on Tuesday evening. Neighbors who had helped each other during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which flooded every home in the parish, once again stepped up to help each other, amid total darkness, fallen tree branches, live power lines and the smell of gas from damaged gas lines.

Chris Dier of St. Bernard Parish described a chilling scene Tuesday night, including flying debris and the sound of a loud roar. “It was like nothing I had ever heard before,” said Mr. Dier, a high school history teacher. “It looked like a huge light in the sky had taken over.”

The tornado skipped his home, but about two blocks away a church was destroyed, homes were flattened and vehicles were overturned and covered in debris. Everywhere, he said, he saw downed trees and power lines.

Still, Mr. Dier remained optimistic. “I am convinced that we will rebuild,” he said. “We have already done that. We will do it again,” he said.

The tornado came as a robust spring storm system that was blamed for at least one other death this week crossed the Deep South. Tuesday morning, a few hours before the tornado, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana had closed many state officesand schools in Louisiana and Mississippi have adjusted their schedules in anticipation of the weather.

The same storm system was moving east Wednesday, and the weather service said the threat of severe weather and flooding “should ease somewhat.” Nearly 100,000 people were without power at one point across Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana on Tuesday, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that aggregates data from utilities across the United States. By early Wednesday, much of it had been restored.

Parts of the Florida Panhandle and southeast Alabama remained under tornado watch early Wednesday morning.

A tornado last hit New Orleans in February 2017, with winds estimated by the National Weather Service up to 150 miles per hour. The storm damaged more than 600 homes and injured 33 people.

Emily Lane contributed reporting from New Orleans.



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