A tornado tore through parts of New Orleans and its suburbs Tuesday night, ripping down power lines and scattering debris in a part of the city that had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina 17 years ago.
There were no immediate reports of injuries from the New Orleans tornado. Other tornadoes spawned by the same storm system hit parts of Texas and Oklahoma, killing one person and causing multiple injuries and widespread damage.
Video taken by a local television station showed a large black funnel visible in the darkened sky looming among the buildings in the eastern part of New Orleans.
Guy McGinnis, president of St. Bernard Parish, told WWL-TV that the parish had “widespread damage” in parts of the parish that borders 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 homes in their bathrooms.
“As of right now no major injuries are reported,” McGinnis said. “It’s going to be a long night.”
The tornado appeared to start in a New Orleans suburb and then move east across the Mississippi River into the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and parts of St. Bernard Parish before moving northeast.
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It wasn’t immediately known whether anyone was injured. 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. 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.
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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 (120 kph) 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 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.
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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 (23 centimeters) 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.
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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.
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 (100 kilometers) 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.
Coronado reported from Austin, Texas. Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press journalists Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Julie Walker in New York; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Terry Wallace in Dallas; and Janet McConnaughy in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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