NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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.
St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann said during a news conference that one person was confirmed dead and multiple others were injured in the suburb.
Other tornadoes spawned by the same storm system hit parts of Texas and Oklahoma, killing one person and causing multiple injuries and widespread damage.
A 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.
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 — both of which were badly damaged by Katrina — before moving northeast.
Reggie Ford was nearby when the tornado struck. He drove from the area, only to return once it passed, to offer help to anyone who needed it. So far, he says, the streets are eerily quiet, only filled with fresh devastation from the twister.
“I see downed powerlines. A church is completely destroyed. Three businesses are completely destroyed. There are eight blocks of houses missing their rooves,” the New Orleans resident said. Video he posted on Instagram shows debris cluttered streets and shredded buildings. A battered car lies on its roof.
Debris was spread across an area covering multiple blocks east of New Orleans.
In the New Orleans suburb of Arabi, there was a strong smell of natural gas in the air as residents and rescue personnel stood in the street and surveyed the damage. Some houses were destroyed while pieces of debris hung from electrical wires and trees. An aluminum fishing boat in front of one house was bent into the shape of a C with the motor across the street. Power poles were down and leaning over, forcing emergency workers to walk slowly through darkened neighborhoods checking for damage.
Michelle Malasovich lives in Arabi. Initially she had been worried about family that lives in areas north of Louisiana that were also getting hit by bad weather. She was texting with her family there when, she said, “All of a sudden the lights started flickering.”
She didn’t hear the distinctive freight train sound that many people say comes with a tornado but it was extremely windy, and her husband yelled at her to get out of the bedroom. He 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. “Our neighbor’s house is in the middle of the street right now.”
Malasovich’s house fared relatively well, she said. Some columns were blown off the porch and the windows of her Jeep were blown out. Down the street a house was severely damaged, and parked vehicles had been moved around by the winds: “This is serious for down here.”
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted late Tuesday that currently there were no reports of casualties or significant damage to Orleans Parish and that partners @EntergyNOLA were working to restore power to the 8,000 customers impacted.
About 13,000 homes and businesses were reportedly without power in the three parishes around New Orleans after the storm.
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.