Tornados Rip Through New Orleans, Southeast Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (CN) – At least seven tornadoes hit New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana Tuesday, displacing more than 100 residents and seriously injuring at least 31 people. There have been no reported fatalities.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon, after neighborhoods were pummeled by the converging severe storms that resulted in the tornados. At least 250 homes were flattened as the storms passed.

Edwards said during a news conference Tuesday that aerial views of where the tornados touched down showed devastation like he had never before seen.

He said he was heartbroken by the destruction, and said also that many of those who lost their home Tuesday had also been adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Edwards said he was encouraged to see emergency groups spring to their feet to quickly respond to the devastation.

I am “heartened with the way people responded” to this storm, Edwards said. He added that it’s because “we have lots of practice” responding to emergencies, but said he was happy the response was so fast and complete all the same.

Edwards said one year ago this month a tornado touched down in St. James Parish, also in southeastern Louisiana.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he was sorry to say that many people lost everything they had during Tuesday’s storms.

“Thank God we don’t have any reports of death,” Landrieu said, though he acknowledged that many people will be hurting for a long time after yesterday’s bad weather.

He thanked Edwards for the state’s robust and aggressive response to the storms.

“You can see this can be a catastrophic and a crazy situation,” Landrieu said, but he said local response had been very good thus far.

“Being hit by a tornado is basically like having an elephant step on top of your house,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the New Orleans area Tuesday evening.

More than 250 residences in the tornado’s two-and-a-half mile path through metro New Orleans were destroyed, with many other residences missing windows and roofs. It is unknown how many home were destroyed by the other tornadoes that touched down in the state.

In all, seven parishes reported damages from the tornadoes – Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. James and Ascension. (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties).

Almost 10,000 homes in New Orleans were without power Tuesday night after tornadoes plowed through power lines, especially along Chef Menteur Highway in the east, where entire neighborhoods were smashed by the storm.

By Tuesday evening, Mayor Landrieu reported that emergency teams had completed a full sweep through the worst-affected neighborhoods, knocking on doors and digging through rubble for storm victims.

Landrieu’s office said the Louisiana Army National Guard had committed 150 troops to cover 24-hour patrols in the wake of the tornado, with an additional 36 deputies also being provided by outside police agencies through the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association emergency task force to continue a “highly visible” multiagency patrol of affected areas.

The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans had dispatched several crews to New Orleans East to assess damage from the tornados to homes and businesses Tuesday night, and 17 sewer pump stations in the affected areas were transitioned to generator power so they could get back up and running.

Landrieu’s office issued notice Tuesday night that the city’s tap water was still safe to drink. The water comes from the Carrollton Water Plant, which was not affected by the tornados.

Local shelters were set up to house tornado victims. The governor’s office sent out a press release Tuesday saying food, water, cots and blankets were available for those who needed them.

The New Orleans Health Department, with support from the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and the New Orleans Fire Department, began providing basic medical care Tuesday, according to the mayor’s office.

The Red Cross will partner with other agencies to be at shelters and assess storm-victims’  short and long-term housing needs.

The mayor’s office said food, water and cleaning supplies would be available for pickup Wednesday.

Federal Emergency Management assessment teams were scheduled to take up survey of the affected area Wednesday morning to determine how much federal aid will be available.