La. tornado displaces 1,500; cleanup under way

Associated Press
A U.S. Postal truck lies on its side in the yard of a home in Rayne, La., after a suspected tornado hit the area injuring at least nine people, leveling homes and causing natural gas leaks that prompted evacuations on Saturday, March 5, 2011. (AP Photo/The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, P.C. Piazza) MANDATORY CREDIT

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Officials say some 1,500 people cannot return to their homes after a tornado ripped through southwestern Louisiana, killing a woman trying to shield her child and injuring a dozen others.

Carroll Stelly, the police chief in the town of Rayne, said Sunday that about 150 homes had been damaged by the twister a day earlier. Others cannot return to their homes because crews are still surveying damage and working to get electricity and other utilities running again.

All was quiet Sunday, with the only sounds being the occasional hum of a chainsaw being used in the distance to cut tree limbs from power lines.

The home where the woman died was completely crushed by part of an oak tree. Elsewhere, people's belongings were covered in mud and strewn about the streets.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

RAYNE, La. (AP) — 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.

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