NEW IBERIA, La. – At least two people were killed and 15 others were taken to hospitals after reports of tornadoes touching down during a strong cluster of storms in southern Louisiana.
A meteorologist was to check the area to see whether the winds were tornadoes or microbursts, National Weather Service Kent Kuyper said Friday.
The storm front had moved into Mississippi and Alabama, but the storm-free period will be brief, he said.
"More showers and thunderstorms are on the way Saturday afternoon and evening as we get another cold front coming through. We're in a progressive pattern — almost like clockwork, every three days we'll get a front through," Kuyper said.
However, he said, the next round does not appear likely to spawn any storms like Thursday's.
In the New Iberia area, the winds tore off roofs and ripped seven mobile homes from their foundation, Sheriff Sid Hebert said.
Yevette Williams, 37, and Ruby Mouton, 65, were killed in their home, according to a spokesman for the Iberia Parish Coroner's Office.
Steven Bruno said he flipped over twice while furniture and broken glass flew around his mobile home. Interviewed by KLFY-TV outside the hospital where he was checked out, he said the gown he was wearing was now the only thing he owned. His girlfriend, who is six months pregnant, was still in the hospital for fetal monitoring, he said.
But, he said, they were lucky to get out alive.
Damage was less serious as the storm continued through the state. Possible tornadoes reportedly blew out windows Thursday in New Roads and tore the roofs from two houses in Jarreau, five miles away, and trees were reported down on at least two Tangipahoa Parish roads, weather service meteorologist Jim Vasilj said.
Joyce Firmin, a resident of New Iberia's Belaire subdivision, which also received major storm damage, said, "We were just sitting and watching a movie, and then all of a sudden the wind started blowing and it got really bad.
"We moved into the pantry where it was safer, and it just sounded like a bunch of trucks or an airplane or something was coming toward the house."
Firmin's daughter, 14-year-old Jaci, said she could hear branches snapping and power lines popping during the storm. "My ears were popping a lot," she said. "Then we came out, everything was down."
As the Firmins stood in the neighborhood Thursday evening to survey the damage, they saw dozens of tree limbs and power lines littering the roadways. The storm destroyed a home in the area and severely damaged several others, including tearing the roofs off at least two houses.
The tornado reports came in as a severe band of storms hit the parish. The storms flooded roads and Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency in the parishes of Acadia, Allen, Sabine and Vermillion. On Friday, she expanded the order to include the parishes of Calcasieu, Iberia, Iberville, Pointe Coupee and St. Martin.
Blanco arrived in Iberia Parish on Friday to tour the destruction. She stopped at Howard and Catherine Matt's home, which they built in 1972. The residence took a direct hit. Trees were snapped and twisted. Windows were shattered. Portions of the home's roof and sides were ripped away, but everyone made it out OK.
"It is very upsetting that property was damaged, but then you realize the people lost their lives. You can put property back together, but you can't put lives back together," she said after surveying the area.
Although at least three people, possibly children, were reported missing, everyone had been accounted for by 7 p.m., Hebert said.
Mike Marcotte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Services Lake Charles office, said Thursday that radar images indicated that one tornado may have gone through the area.
In New Orleans, crews were dispatched to clean drains and prepare for possible flooding ahead of a weather system that could drop several inches of rain on an area that has been drenched in the past two weeks.
While stormy weather this time of year isn't unusual, this latest system comes after two storms that helped bring December's rainfall total in New Orleans to more than 10 inches, nearly twice the normal average.
One of the storms, just before Christmas, caused widespread flooding in parts of the city and neighboring Jefferson Parish, and raised concerns about how well the area, hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, would fare in another hurricane.