At least one powerful multi-vortex tornado touched down in New Orleans on Tuesday evening, ripping east across the city’s Lower Ninth Ward and Arabi, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Flipped cars, downed power lines, and debris from obliterated houses could be seen in video footage and images shared on social media by residents.
At least one person was confirmed killed as the storm surged into the Arabi area, according to St. Bernard Parish president Guy McInnis. He said later that he had “zero information” to share on the death at a later press conference, but acknowledged “widespread” damage.
Reggie Ford, an Arabi resident, told The Daily Beast he’d left his home after hearing warnings about the oncoming storm, as he doesn’t have a basement. He estimated he lives approximately a mile from where the tornado first hit.
“I saw over 30 downed houses, six businesses flattened, a church flattened,” he said, adding, “It looked crazy. Like a disaster zone.”
At least 17,000 families in the affected region of the city, located in its downtown area, were hit by power outages, local television channel WSDU reported. McInnis told the station that at least five homes were completely destroyed, with Louisiana firefighters also reporting gas leaks.
An unknown number of residents were also said to be trapped in their homes, with St. Bernard Parish’s sheriff, Jimmy Pohlmann, saying there had been “multiple injuries.” Firefighters requested a “major” response from emergency services across Arabi and the Lower Ninth.
Pohlmann said at a press conference that search and rescue efforts would continue “throughout the night and into the early morning hours.”
The extent of the damage was still being assessed late Tuesday. “There are houses that are missing,” Pohlmann said. “One landed in the middle of the street.”
A young girl on a ventilator was rescued from the house that was lifted off its foundation, according to McInnis, who said he witnessed firefighters taking care of the child and her family.
Local reporters and experts were quick to compare Tuesday night’s weather event with a similar one on Feb. 7, 2017, when a rare EF3-level tornado slammed the city with winds of up to 150 miles per hour. More than 30 people were injured.
The National Weather Service warned of a severe thunderstorm with the capability to produce a tornado just before 8 p.m. local time, saying the storm could whip up flying debris and damage mobile homes, roofs, vehicles, and trees.
“Do not wait to see or hear the tornado,” the agency advised. “TAKE COVER NOW!”
The state had been anticipating the storm, with meteorologists predicting up to five inches of rain, high winds, and heavy hail. Some schools in Louisiana braced by closing on Tuesday, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Tuesday night’s tornado comes one day after extreme weather ripped across Texas, with another tornado killing a 73-year-old woman in her Grayson County home. At least 10 others in the area were injured and needed hospital treatment, according to The New York Times.
McInnis said he had had no immediate reports of people missing as a result of the tornado. Reggie Ford said the other residents he’d come across in the open had been relatively calm.
“We are used to natural disasters,” he explained.
The spring storm system is expected to abate throughout the week, with the Times reporting the weather would sweep east with considerably less ferocity by Wednesday.
This is a breaking news story. Check back here for more updates soon.