KENNER, La. – Tornadoes and severe weather ripped through southern Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, mangling trailers at an RV park, ripping off roofs from buildings and killing at least three people in both states, authorities said.
One of the most hard-hit areas appeared to be a recreational vehicle park in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana. Two people were killed there, said St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin, speaking on local television. Authorities were still looking for people believed to be trapped under the debris, Martin said.
Thirty people were injured, and seven of them were in critical condition, he said.
"We never had anything like this; we never had this many people injured in one event, and so much destruction in one event," Martin told WVUE news. "We won't stop searching until we're satisfied we've searched every pile."
In Mississippi, officials are still sorting through reports of damage to some buildings, but Vann Byrd of the Lamar County Emergency Management Agency said one person died in a mobile home west of Purvis.
The reported tornadoes are part of a line of severe weather and storms that has ripped through the region.
At least seven tornadoes hit southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi, said Ken Graham, the meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service's southeast Louisiana office.
That number includes the one that slammed into the RV park in Convent and one that killed a person near Purvis, Mississippi, he said. Teams will be sent out in the morning to document the damage and rate the tornadoes, he said.
The harsh weather even affected the National Weather Service, Graham said. Lightning took out the radar in their Slidell office, forcing them to use backups, he said.
"We felt the shockwave go through the building," Graham said.
Earlier Tuesday a reported tornado caused some damage but no injuries near New Orleans' main airport.
Emergency officials and the National Weather Service said the reported tornado was spotted near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in the suburban city of Kenner. It was believed to have touched down in a nearby field.
Ronald Myers lives across the street from New Mount Bethel Baptist Church, where and his wife are members. He recalled the sky darkening and high winds — he believes it was a tornado. They came outside when they heard the church's alarm go off.
"My wife came over to turn the alarm off and she came back home and said, 'Baby, the wall behind the church has done fell down,'" said Myers. He said he struggled to keep his footing in the wind, and it nearly knocked his wife down: "I weigh 242 pounds. If it could move me, it was moving."
High winds sheared the brick and mortar from the rear wall of the church.
Governors in both Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency.
High winds ripped off roofs and downed trees around the greater New Orleans area. Other suspected tornadoes were reported north of Lake Pontchartrain and west of the city in St. Charles and Ascension parishes.
In Kenner, cars were reported damaged at a parking lot near the airport. In Prairieville, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, heavy damage was reported to some buildings, including a fitness gym.
More than 6 million people in parts of five states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia — were in an area of moderate risk for a few strong tornadoes and other severe weather Tuesday, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, estimated.
Schools across south Louisiana and Mississippi canceled classes ahead of the storm, sending tens of thousands of students home early to avoid having buses on the road when severe storms arrived.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ken Gibson, an emergency management official in west Alabama, said a storm knocked down trees and damaged at least one home near the rural town of Reform but no one was injured.
The storms began as a line of fierce thunderstorms moved across Texas, raising the risk of tornadoes, hail and damaging winds around several states, forecasters said.
The South Texas storms left thousands of people without power and windows broken after hail the size of golf balls damaged some buildings Monday night, but no one was injured.
In Alabama and Georgia, forecasters issued flash flood watches ahead of the storm system, which was expected to drop 1 to 2 inches of rain, with higher amounts possible in some areas. The warnings, which covered large parts of both states, were expected to be in effect through Wednesday afternoon.
In Arkansas, heavy rain, powerful winds and some snow were forecast for parts of the state Tuesday and Wednesday. The National Weather Service in Little Rock described the storm system as a "three-headed monster" on its Facebook page.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey and Bill Fuller in New Orleans contributed to this story.