‘WooWooWoo BOOM!’ Tornado survivors tell their tales

Published 3:53 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Dwight Powell lost his Lexus to the massive tornado that injured 33 people and damaged 300 properties on a two-mile rampage through east New Orleans. He had just parked it inside his garage to avoid hail damage before the twister struck.

At least his Yukon pickup truck would be OK, he thought: It was in a friend’s repair shop, 60 miles north.

Then his phone rang.

“The man called me this morning and said, ‘Man, the tornado hit your truck,'” Powell said.

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That’s a bad joke to tell a friend who just lost his house, he told him.

But it wasn’t. The truck was slammed by another tornado that hit Donaldsonville, one of at least four confirmed twisters tearing up Louisiana on Tuesday as a line of severe weather moved across the Deep South.

“I’ve got to pick up the pieces and walk in faith. God is going to take care of me,” Powell said Wednesday.

The other tornadoes injured nine people in the Baton Rouge area and two north of Lake Pontchartrain, but nobody was killed, authorities said. Parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama also saw severe weather Wednesday, but no injuries.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release Wednesday that two people remain hospitalized, and that 78 people spent Tuesday night in a shelter, which remains open.

His statement also said that two-thirds of the 10,400 Entergy customers who lost power have had their electricity restored — and the rest may have to wait up to 5 days before getting their lights back on.

National Weather Service teams fanned out Wednesday in Louisiana and Mississippi, which had one confirmed tornado, to analyze the destruction and estimate their power. They determined that the twister that struck eastern New Orleans was an EF3 on the enhanced Fujita scale, meaning its winds reached from 136 to 165 mph, capable of causing severe damage.

Tornado damage has a distinctive pattern, meteorologist Christopher Bannan said, unlike damage from a downburst, which radiates outward from a central point, and straight-line wind damage, which all points the same direction.

The state was counting the buildings damaged or destroyed, Mike Steele of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said Wednesday.

Powell had just finished restoring his house after buying it as blighted property.

“I was about to put my house on the market for sale this Friday. This Thursday, I was going to get homeowners and flood insurance,” he said.

He and an employee saw the tornado from the back door, and moved to the front.

“All we heard was that train sound, WooWooWoo BOOM! In 15 seconds it was over,” he said. The front of the house was intact, but “the whole back is gone. The garage is gone. The kitchen gone.”

Rocqueisha Williams lives in the same neighborhood and was sitting on her bed when a friend called to warn her to take shelter. She said she didn’t see any rain, but then she heard thunder. She grabbed a mattress and looked out her front window as she ran to the bathroom.

The sky was “charcoal grey, like the world was just grey. … and, running through, a strong bolt of turquoise lightning.”

“Glass was coming toward me. It sounded like the wind and everything was chasing me,” she said. “The wind was whistling, tyoo! Tyoo! Glass was breaking out of the window I’d just looked out of.”

She emerged to find the bed she just left covered by shattered glass.

“The Lord was on my side,” she said.

Then she ran, shaking, to the nearby school where her eighth grade boys were, because “I knew if I was hit, they were also hit,” she said.

Eric Williams, 14, and Erin Williams, 13, were fine. Her other children, Ke’Erica Williams, 15, and Evrin Thompson, 11, were at other schools outside the tornado’s path.

She said pieces of walls and part of a blue door had crashed through her car windows.

“Someone else’s lingerie is in my front yard,” she said.