NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A tornado tore through parts of New Orleans Tuesday night, triggered by a storm that produced several tornadoes through parts of Texas and Oklahoma, killing one person and causing multiple injuries and extensive damage.
The National Weather Service retweeted a video of the tornado in eastern New Orleans that was visible in the dark sky.
The tornado appeared to start in a suburb of New Orleans and then move east across the Mississippi River into the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and parts of St. Louis. Bernard Parish, before moving northeast.
Guy McGinnis, president of St. Bernard Parish, told WWL-TV that the parish had “widespread damage” in parts of the parish bordering New Orleans to the east. Search and rescue teams went through homes looking for people, responding to at least two calls from people saying they were trapped in their homes in their bathrooms.
“At the moment, no major injuries have been reported,” McGinnis said. “It’s going to be a long night.”
It is not immediately known if anyone was injured. While the metropolitan area is often hit by severe weather and heavy rain, it is rare for a tornado to move through the city.
Strong winds uprooted trees in Ridgeland, Mississippi, as a possible tornado passed through the Jackson area on Tuesday afternoon, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or severe damage to buildings. Campus police at Mississippi State University in Starkville shared a picture of a large hardwood tree lying across a street.
Many schools closed early or canceled after-school activities Tuesday in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi to allow students to return home before the weather worsened. Shelters opened up to residents who needed a place to live 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 rain overnight, authorities said. Deputies in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, rescued three drivers from high water during the night, tweeting the sheriff’s office before dawn.
The storms were expected to intensify during the day as temperatures rose, increasing the threat of tornadoes, hail and strong winds. Forecasters predicted intense tornadoes and damaging winds, some hurricane strength at speeds of 75 mph (120 km / h) or more, in large parts of the Mississippi, southern and eastern Louisiana, and western Alabama. Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi, were among the cities at risk of bad weather.
The system dumped heavy rain, knocked down trees and triggered several tornado warnings as it moved into Alabama Tuesday night. The roofs of several homes were damaged in Toxey, Alabama, after a storm prior to 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 trailers for recreational vehicles that they had an evacuation plan because the structures might not be able to withstand the expected weather. More than 8,000 households live in such temporary neighborhoods, 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 stood along the country roads, and pieces of metal – uprooted by strong winds – hung from the branches. Residents stepped in carefully to avoid broken power lines while working to clean the remains of broken ceilings, cracked walls and damaged cars.
JD Harkins, 59, said he saw two tornadoes pass his home in Elgin.
“There used to be a barn there,” Harkins said, pointing to an empty lot on his uncle’s property covered in scattered debris. He said the building was empty when the first tornado hit Monday and that his family is grateful that no one was injured.
“It was crystal clear, well-defined,” Harkins said. “And then one went up, and another came down.”
The tornadoes came on a wild day in Texas – forest fires were burning in the west, and a blizzard warning was issued for the Texas Panhandle, where up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow fell.
“There is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary compared to 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 can be expected, and there are usually more over the years with a La Nina, a natural cooling of parts of the Pacific that changes the weather across the globe, he said.
The biggest concern is still tornadoes hitting at night, Gensini said.
At press conferences in Jacksboro and Crockett, two communities severely damaged by tornadoes, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a declaration of disaster for 16 hard-hit counties.
Abbott said 10 people were injured by storms in the Crockett area, while more than a dozen were reportedly injured elsewhere.
The Grayson County Emergency Management Office said a 73-year-old woman was killed in the Sherwood Shores community, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Dallas, but gave no details.
Homes and businesses in at least a dozen Texas counties were damaged, according to reports from the Storm Prediction Center.
Officials reported damage throughout Jacksboro, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Fort Worth. Photographs posted on social media showed a storm tearing down 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 Journalist Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Kimberly Chandler of Montgomery, Alabama; Julie Walker in New York; Ken Miller of Oklahoma City; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Terry Wallace of Dallas; and Janet McConnaughy of New Orleans contributed to this report.