BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Strong winds flipped a mobile home off its foundation Sunday in Louisiana, killing a mother and her three-year-old daughter as a storm system with hurricane-force winds crawled across the Deep South, damaging homes and businesses.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards put the entire state on “high alert” and warned residents to stay off the roads. He urged people to keep their cellphones charged and close by so that they could get severe weather alerts throughout Sunday night and Monday morning.
“It is an extremely dangerous weather event,” he said.
Parts of Arkansas and Mississippi were also under a threat of tornadoes, but the bullseye was on Louisiana. The system brought unconfirmed tornadoes to the state as well as heavy thunderstorms, large hail and flash flooding.
In the rural community of Breaux Bridge, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of Baton Rouge, St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Maj. Ginny Higgins told The Associated Press that a suspected tornado touched down soon after a warning was issued.
“Seconds later it hit,” Higgins said. “It hit the trailer, flipped it and tore its side off. There was a mother and daughter inside and both were killed.”
Higgins said 38-year-old Francine Gotch and 3-year-old Neville Alexander were pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told KLFY-TV that the father was out at the time and returned home to find the bodies amid the splintered debris.
The governor said powerful straight-line winds destroyed the mobile home. Typically after such damage, the National Weather Service will investigate and determine if the damage was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds.
National Weather Service warned that it was a “particularly dangerous situation.” The governor noted that the high-level warning was extremely rare. Straight line winds could reach upward of 80 mph (130 kph) winds. Hurricanes have at least 74 mph (120 kph) winds.
“This is a statewide weather event,” the governor said. “It’s likely to be an all-night event. We don’t expect the weather system to leave the state of Louisiana until sometime tomorrow morning.”
National Weather Service meteorologist John Hart in Oklahoma said there was a significant risk of weather for Mississippi and Alabama as the system keeps moving east.
Fire officials in the Texas village of Point Venture said several people witnessed an apparent funnel cloud there Sunday morning. Travis County Emergency Services District 1 Fire Chief Donnie Norman said there were several structures with severe damage.
“There was one home with pretty heavy damage. The roof was completely removed. There was one resident there at the time, but she received no major injuries,” Norman said.
A Texas state trooper reported seeing a suspected tornado touch down early Sunday morning near Center Point, Texas, about 55 miles (90 kilometres) northwest of San Antonio, Texas. National Weather Service meteorologist Yvette Benavides said there were no reports of major or structural damage.