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New Orleans Tornadoes Leave a Path of Destruction


NEW ORLEANS — Search-and-rescue crews surveyed heavily damaged homes and debris-filled streets on Wednesday after tornadoes ripped through the New Orleans area the evening before, killing at least one resident and knocking out power to thousands of residents.

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 St. Bernard Parish, sending several people to the hospital.

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

Guy McInnis, the president of St. Bernard Parish, said that seven local residents had been treated for minor injuries at a hospital on Tuesday night.

When the sun came up on Wednesday, Mr. McInnis said in an interview, he was grateful for the clear weather, which would make response efforts easier. “And the next thought was: How did no one else die in this event?” he said. “It’s just incredible what these tornadoes do.”

Mr. McInnis said authorities had found major damage at 40 to 50 buildings by midmorning, though assessments were still underway. The destruction, he said, was concentrated in a two-mile stretch in the community of Arabi.

There, the streets were littered by small pieces of wood and wire, tufts of grass from the nearby marshland and puffs of pink insulation. Classes at Arabi Elementary School were canceled, though other schools in the parish were open and following normal schedules.

John Bauman, a local plumber, surveyed the scene somberly on Wednesday morning.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this,” he said. His block of Success Street had been left fairly intact. In his neighbor’s backyard, the top to 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 shredded roof rafters and walls that flared out at the bottom.

“Looks like they were home — both of their vehicles are here,” he said, wondering aloud about the fate of the residents. “How did they get through? How did they ever get through?”

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

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

Aaron Ledet, 44, said on Tuesday night that when he heard the wind, he headed to the bathroom. “I just put my family in the bathtub and prayed,” he said. Once the gusts ceased, he went outside and was among the neighbors and firefighters who rescued the girl from her house.

Similar scenes played out across St. Bernard Parish on Tuesday night. Neighbors who had helped each other through Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which flooded every house in the parish, pitched in again to help each other, amid pitch dark, fallen tree branches, live power lines and the smell of gas from damaged gas lines.

Chris Dier of St. Bernard Parish described a frightening scene on Tuesday night, including flying debris and the sound of a loud roar. “It was like nothing I’ve ever heard before,” said Mr. Dier, a high school history teacher. “Seemed like a massive light in the sky took over.”

The tornado skipped his house, but about two streets 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’m confident we will rebuild,” he said. “We’ve done it before. We’ll 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 moved through the Deep South. By Tuesday morning, hours before the tornado hit, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana had closed many state offices, and schools in Louisiana and Mississippi adjusted their schedules in anticipation of the weather.

The same storm system was moving East on Wednesday, and the Weather Service said the threat of severe weather and flooding “should wane somewhat.” Nearly 100,000 people were without power at some 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 had been restored.

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

A tornado last struck New Orleans in February 2017, with winds estimated by the National Weather Service of 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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