Louisiana sends National Guard to tornado disaster area

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Posted at 10:09 AM, Mar 23, 2022

ARABI, La. (AP) — A tornado flipped cars, ripped off rooftops and deposited a house in the middle of a street in the New Orleans area, part of a storm front that caused damage in places as it blew from Texas to South Carolina. Two deaths were attributed to the weather.

Other tornadoes spawned by the same storm system had hit parts of Texas and Oklahoma on Monday, killing a woman north of Dallas and causing multiple injuries and widespread damage, before moving eastward.

The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down Tuesday night in St. Bernard Parish, which borders New Orleans to the southeast, and in Lacombe, across Lake Pontchartrain from the city. Parish officials gave no details on how the person died; they said multiple other people were injured.

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 St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said the tornado caused significant damage in an area wrecked by Katrina.

Many residents also suffered damage just last year when Category 4 Hurricane Ida swept through. Stacey Mancuso’s family just completed repairs to their home in Arabi after Ida ripped off the roof and caused extensive water damage. As Tuesday’s tornado tore through their street, she huddled in the laundry room with her husband; two children, ages 16 and 11; and dogs as part of their new roof blew away.

“We’re alive. That’s what I can say at this point. We still have four walls and part of a roof. I consider myself lucky,” said Mancuso. Still, the twister was the third time they’ve had major weather damage since Katrina in 2005.

In Arabi, there was a strong smell of natural gas in the air as residents and rescue personnel surveyed the damage. Some houses were destroyed while pieces of debris hung from electrical wires and trees. An aluminum fishing boat was bent into the shape of a C with its motor across the street. Downed power lines forced emergency workers to walk slowly through darkened neighborhoods.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared to see what I was seeing,” said Amy Sims, who jumped into her car when the tornado warning sounded and drove to the Arabi Heights area to check on her cousin Amanda Hotard and her family.

Ambulance crews and emergency medics, some crying, were dodging live wires as they went door-to-door through shattered homes. Her cousin’s home and family were OK, but houses all around them were flattened, she said Wednesday.

“A bomb looked like it had gone off,” she said.

Michelle Malasovich, who lives in Arabi, was texting with relatives to make sure they were safe when “all of a sudden the lights started flickering.”

Her husband was out on the porch and saw the tornado coming.

“It just kept getting louder and louder,” Malasovich said. After it passed, they came out to survey the damage — some columns were blown off their porch and the windows of her Jeep were blown out. Others fared worse: “Our neighbor’s house is in the middle of the street right now.”

A family of three was in that home when it went airborne, and the couple emerged from the wreckage seeking help to rescue their daughter, still inside on a breathing machine, neighbors and authorities said.

“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.”

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 3,700 remained without electricity early Wednesday morning.

As the storm front moved eastward, an apparent twister ripped apart a metal building and shattered windows east of Mobile Bay in Baldwin County, Alabama, and torrential downpours caused flash floods. The weather service reported more than 8 inches of rain fell in the central Alabama city of Sylacauga overnight, and the roofs of several homes were damaged in Toxey, Alabama, where tornado warnings were issued.

The wild weather waned as it moved into South Carolina early Wednesday, but the weather service warned that isolated tornadoes remained possible in southern Georgia.

Shelters were opened ahead of the severe weather, and many schools closed early or canceled after-school activities in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Louisiana’s federal and state authorities reminded the more than 8,000 hurricane survivors living in government-provided mobile homes and recreational vehicle trailers to have an evacuation plan.

The vicious weather hit Texas on Monday, where several tornadoes were reported along the Interstate 35 corridor. 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, and that his family is thankful nobody was hurt.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster in 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 (95 kilometers) north of Dallas, but provided no details.