Storms slam Louisiana and Mississippi; three people dead

Posted at 9:33 PM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 21:33:09-05

Severe storms have roared across the Gulf Coast, killing three people, spawning tornadoes, ripping up homes and plowing swaths through communities.

Two people died in a Louisiana recreational vehicle park where a storm pounded 160 motor homes and trailers into a field of debris on Tuesday. And in Mississippi, one person died in a mobile home crushed in the storm in Lamar County, the National Weather Service said.

By the end of the day, 22 reports of tornadoes came in to the Weather Service. They were strewn across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and each report had a list of damages or roads blocked by felled trees. The Weather Service confirmed a handful of twisters directly and posted pictures of funnel clouds to social media.

Forecasters said the risk of severe storms, powerful winds, hail and tornadoes continues into Wednesday and will shift northeast.

Praying, crying

A menacing rumble jolted a man out of his sleep at his home near the Louisiana RV park in Convent. “The whole entire house started shaking,” he told CNN affiliate WVUE. He hustled his dog into the bathtub and climbed in, too. Three more people in the house piled in with them.

“They were praying, and I was crying. I was so scared; the house would not stop shaking,” he said.

Video from the nearby park showed dozens of motor homes and trailers blown apart. The road through the park filled with ambulances, fire trucks and pickups.

Seven people were critically injured, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy J. Martin said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards traveled to the damage site and declared a state of emergency for seven parishes.

Water tower toppled

At a gym in Prairieville, Louisiana, Kenneth Phillips was doing squats with his wife when a glass wall crashed down and the roof began peeling up. The storm ripped it off, and people dropped their weights and fled.

“That’s when we dodged the debris to make it to the locker rooms,” Phillips said.

In Paincourtville, the wind downed a water tower, he said. CNN affiliate WAFB tweeted a photo of the wreckage with the hulking water tank torn in half like an a thin aluminum can.

In Livingston, Police Chief Randy Dufrene was in a restaurant when he got a good look at what he thought was a twister.

“The weather picked up real hard. We walked to the glass door to take a look,” Dufrene told the station. “As soon as we got to the door, I could see the top of the tornado going down, crossing the road there. The door started sucking in where we were at.”

Florida apartments crushed

Storms demolished apartment buildings north of Pensacola, Florida. The Weather Service retweeted photos of caved-in units and rubble. But Escambia County, officials had only three injuries to report.

Several people were injured and cars were flipped over near Pensacola, said NWS meteorologist Steve Miller said.

On Wednesday, the storms will continue through Florida but also move into Georgia, the Carolinas and eastern Virginia. North Carolina is in the center of the target.

Damaging winds will be the greatest threat, with tornadoes still possible though not as likely.