RAYNE, La. – When the tornado hit this Louisiana town, Jalisa Granger was instinctively sheltering her child from the sudden, fierce winds. Pieces of homes shot skyward, debris lodged in treetops and a U.S. Postal Service truck was flipped on its side.
When it was over, the 21-year-old mother lay dead from a tree that had fallen on top of her home, authorities say. But her child survived the tornado's rampage through Rayne, a south Louisiana community of 8,500 people some 70 miles west of Baton Rouge.
Maxine Trahan, a spokeswoman for the Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office, said Granger was protecting her child when the tornado hit.
"She sheltered the child to protect her from the storm and a tree fell on the house and it killed the mother but the child was OK," Trahan said. A relative who lived nearby found the woman.
Authorities say at least 11 people were injured by the tornado, which brought winds reaching 135 mph and had sprung from a vast storm system kicking up abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. That storm system was poised to spread rain Sunday up the Carolinas and into the Northeast as forecasters warned of the threat of heavy rains in the Southeast and a mix of rain and snow farther north.
More than 100 homes were damaged in Saturday's tornado, many of them destroyed, authorities said, and about 1,500 people were evacuated overnight because of natural gas leaks. Now the task of cleaning up lies ahead in Rayne, where sheet metal roofing clung to trees, chunks of homes were ripped and tossed about, and downed tree limbs smashed cars.
A temporary shelter was set up at a fire station — about two dozen people were there during the night. A curfew was imposed for the storm-damaged area until early Sunday, which was in part meant to keep looters away.
The system that hit Rayne quickly moved east and drenched New Orleans, where several Mardi Gras parades either were delayed, canceled or started earlier because of the severe weather.