(NewsNation/AP) — At least one person is dead after a tornado tore through parts of New Orleans on Tuesday night, spawned by a storm that produced multiple tornadoes through parts of Texas and Oklahoma, causing multiple injuries and widespread damage.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said one person is dead, and that searches for other victims are still ongoing.
The National Weather Service retweeted a video of the tornado in the eastern part of New Orleans that was visible in the darkened sky.
The tornado appeared to start in a New Orleans suburb and then move east across the Mississippi River into the Lower 9th Ward of the city and parts of St. Bernard Parish before moving northeast.
McInnis told WWL-TV that the parish had “widespread damage” in areas bordering New Orleans to the east. Search and rescue teams were going through homes looking for people and responding to at least two calls from people who said they were trapped in their bathrooms.
Louisiana activated 300 National Guard personnel on Wednesday to assist St. Bernard Parish with route clearance, security and engineering support.
New Orleans television stations broadcast live images of the storm as it barreled across the metropolitan area. In the aftermath, rescue workers were searching through Arabi, just east of the city’s Lower 9th Ward, where McInnis said the tornado caused significant damage in an area wrecked by Katrina.
McInnis said a young girl was on a ventilator in one home visited by rescuers at the time.
“We had one rescue — a home that was actually picked up and came down in the middle of the street. A young girl was on a ventilator, her father was looking for firefighters to come help, come help,” McInnis said. “And they were already in there taking care of the young lady and she’s doing fine.”
In Arabi, there was a strong smell of natural gas in the air as residents and rescue personnel stood in the street and surveyed the damage. Some houses were destroyed while pieces of debris hung from electrical wires and trees. An aluminum fishing boat in front of one house was bent into the shape of a C with the motor across the street. Power poles were down and leaning over, forcing emergency workers to walk slowly through darkened neighborhoods checking for damage.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted late Tuesday that there were no reports of casualties or significant damage within the city and that the power utility was working to restore electricity. About 13,000 homes and businesses were reportedly without power in the three parishes around New Orleans. Entergy reported that about 3,500 remained without electricity early Wednesday morning.
While the metropolitan region is often struck by severe weather and heavy rains, it’s rare that a tornado moves through the city.
High winds uprooted trees in Ridgeland, Mississippi, as a possible tornado passed the Jackson-area city Tuesday afternoon, but there were no immediate reports of any injuries or serious damage to buildings there. Campus police at Mississippi State University, in Starkville, shared a photo of a large hardwood tree lying across a street.
Many schools were closing early or canceling after-school activities Tuesday in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi to allow students to get home before the weather deteriorated. Shelters opened for residents who needed a place to stay while the storms traveled through.
High water posed a threat to motorists early Tuesday in Louisiana on several roads, including a stretch of Interstate 20 and several state highways after rains overnight, authorities said. Deputies in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, rescued three drivers from high waters during the night, the sheriff’s office tweeted before dawn.
The storms were expected to intensify throughout the day as temperatures rise, increasing the threat of tornadoes, hail and strong winds. Forecasters predicted intense tornadoes and damaging winds, some hurricane-force with speeds of 75 mph or greater, in much of Mississippi, southern and eastern Louisiana, and western Alabama. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Jackson, Mississippi, were among the cities at risk for bad weather.
The system dumped heavy rain, downed trees and prompted multiple tornado warnings as it moved into Alabama on Tuesday evening. The roofs of several homes were damaged in Toxey, Alabama, after a storm preceded by tornado warnings passed through the area, the National Weather Service tweeted.
Louisiana’s federal and state authorities reminded thousands of hurricane survivors living in government-provided mobile homes and recreational vehicle trailers to have an evacuation plan because the structures might not withstand the expected weather. More than 8,000 households live in such temporary quarters, officials said.
In Texas, several tornadoes were reported Monday along the Interstate 35 corridor, particularly in the Austin suburbs of Round Rock and Elgin, as well as in northern and eastern Texas and southern Oklahoma.
In Elgin, broken trees lined the rural roads and pieces of metal — uprooted by strong winds hung from the branches. Residents stepped carefully to avoid downed power lines as they worked to clean the remnants of broken ceilings, torn down walls and damaged cars.
J.D. Harkins, 59, said he saw two tornadoes pass by his Elgin home.
“There used to be a barn there,” Harkins said, pointing to an empty plot on his uncle’s property covered with scattered debris. He said the building was empty when the first tornado hit Monday, and that his family is thankful nobody was hurt.
“It was crystal clear, well defined,” Harkins said. “And then one went up and another one came down.”
The tornadoes came on a wild weather day in Texas — wildfires burned in the west and a blizzard warning was issued for the Texas Panhandle, where up to 9 inches of snow fell.
“There’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in terms of what we saw yesterday and we see today,” said Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University, who studies severe storms. It’s the time of year when tornadoes and storms are to be expected and there are usually more during years with a La Nina, a natural cooling of parts of the Pacific that alters weather across the globe, he said.
The biggest concern remains tornadoes that strike at night, Gensini said.
At news conferences in Jacksboro and Crockett, two communities severely damaged by tornadoes, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a disaster declaration for 16 hard-hit counties.
Abbott said 10 people were injured by storms in the Crockett area, while more than a dozen were reportedly hurt elsewhere.
The Grayson County Emergency Management Office said a 73-year-old woman was killed in the community of Sherwood Shores, about 60 miles north of Dallas, but provided no details.
Homes and businesses in at least a dozen Texas counties were damaged, according to Storm Prediction Center reports.
Officials reported damage throughout Jacksboro, about 60 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Photographs posted on social media showed a storm ripped the wall and roof from parts of Jacksboro High School, including its gym.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” school principal Starla Sanders told WFAA-TV in Dallas.