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Tornado Cuts Destructive Path Through New Orleans as Storms Threaten South

NEW ORLEANS — A tornado touched down in the New Orleans area on Tuesday night, passing through the city and killing at least one person, heavily damaging homes, knocking out power and prompting a search for residents who may be trapped, according to local authorities.

The tornado hit both the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. One person was killed in St. Bernard Parish, which abuts New Orleans, said Guy McInnis, the parish president, adding that multiple people with injuries were taken to a hospital.

“We don’t know how many and we don’t know the severity of the injuries at this time,” he said in an interview, adding that the city was concentrating on search and rescue efforts.

The tornado had cleared New Orleans before 8:00 p.m. as it headed east. The National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for several counties in central Alabama, and confirmed shortly after 9 p.m. that a tornado had crossed into Shelby County, near Cahaba River Park, about 10 miles southeast of Birmingham.

In New Orleans, the physical damage was still being assessed. “There are houses that are missing,” said James Pohlmann, the sheriff of St. Bernard Parish. “One landed in the middle of the street.”

Callie Marshall, 22, had just applied a mud mask to her face when she heard “lots of wind coming fast.” Her house in St. Bernard Parish started shaking. The tiles from her shower started flying off the wall. Holding her 2-year-old son, Luke, she crouched next to the toilet as the funnel cloud passed over, bringing down a large oak tree next to her house and completely flattening another house down the block.

Aaron Ledet, 44, heard the wind and headed to the bathroom. “I just put my family in the bathtub and prayed,” he said. Once the winds ceased, he went outside, to find another house blown into the center of the street. Mr. Ledet, who did search and rescue while serving in the U.S. Navy, helped to rescue a girl whose oxygen tank had stopped working.

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. “We have a long road ahead of us with this recovery,” Mr. McInnis of St. Bernard Parish said at a news conference late Tuesday night.

The tornado came as a robust spring storm system that was blamed for at least one death and left a path of destruction in Texas continued to move over portions of the Deep South on Tuesday, bringing unsettled weather.

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.

The Weather Service reported “extremely heavy” rain, with a peak rate of more than nine inches per hour at the agency’s office at the Shelby County Airport in Alabama. Much of the county was under a flash flood warning late Tuesday.

In Mississippi, several tornado warnings were issued amid sightings of funnel clouds, though there were no immediate reports of significant damage. A flood watch stretched from eastern Texas up through the western edge of Tennessee.

A wind advisory covered nearly all of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.

Forecasters in Louisiana warned residents on Monday night that it was time to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes sweeping the region.

“There is no safe shelter in a mobile home during a tornado,” the Weather Service in New Orleans said on Twitter. “Seek shelter in a provided space within your mobile home community or seek shelter with friends or family who live nearby in a house or apartment. Last resort is to lie low and flat on the ground.”

As the storms moved east, some state offices in Louisiana were closed on Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Twitter. School districts throughout the state also adjusted their schedules, many of them closing for the day or closing early in anticipation of severe weather. Similar school closings were announced in Mississippi.

“Today it will be windy with widespread rain including severe thunderstorms capable of damaging wind gusts, large hail and tornadoes,” the Weather Service in Jackson, Miss., said on Twitter, adding: “Be careful!!”

On Tuesday, the University of Alabama announced that it had suspended normal operations from 1 p.m. until 5 a.m. on Wednesday. It warned that there was an increased possibility of “supercell thunderstorms or tornadoes,” as well as heavy rains that could cause flooding.

The system is forecast to be less widespread and less intense by the time it moves over the Eastern United States on Wednesday, meteorologists said.

On Monday, severe weather ripped through Texas, where a 73-year-old woman was killed when a tornado destroyed her home in Sherwood Shores, a lakeside community in Grayson County near the Oklahoma border, the authorities said.

Sarah Somers, the county’s emergency management director, said in an email on Tuesday that 10 other people were injured during the tornado and were being treated at hospitals.

Several tornadoes were reported in central Texas in the late afternoon on Monday, including in Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin, where a video that circulated widely on social media showed people scrambling for cover inside a Walmart as a tornado funnel whipped debris in the store’s parking lot.

In Elgin, Texas, a suburb of Austin, a storm chaser captured video footage of a red pickup truck being tossed on its side by a tornado before righting itself and driving away.

At a news conference on Tuesday in Jack County, which includes Jacksboro, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas recognized emergency crews and school personnel for their response during the tornado.

“When you look at the magnitude of the tornado that swept through Jack County and know that there are no fatalities, it is a miracle,” Mr. Abbott said. “However, as has been said, the quick thinking, the decisive action by leaders, whether it be at the school or elsewhere, saved lives.”

Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 16 counties, including Jack County, where nine people were taken to Faith Community Hospital in Jacksboro with injuries that were not life-threatening, the authorities said on Tuesday.

The tornado that hit Jacksboro was an F-3 in strength, with maximum winds of 140 to 150 m.p.h., according to the Weather Service.

Later on Tuesday, Mr. Abbott visited Crockett, Texas, another hard-hit city in Houston County, about 110 miles north of Houston. At a news conference there, he said that 10 people in the county had been injured during a tornado on Monday, including one person with severe injuries. Thirty buildings were damaged in the area, most of which were homes, Mr. Abbott said.

“We want everybody to get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” he said. “We will help them do that.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 43,000 customers across Texas were without electricity, along with about 30,000 in Louisiana and 20,000 in Mississippi, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that aggregates data from utilities across the United States.

Katy Reckdahl reported from New Orleans and Christine Chung from New York. Derrick Bryson Taylor, Neil Vigor and Vimal Patel contributed reporting.

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