Easter tornadoes roar across north Louisiana

BY SUSAN KIM | SHREVEPORT, LA | April 24, 2000


SHREVEPORT, LA (April 24, 2000) -- Emergency management officials

will be assessing the extent of damages today from several

tornadoes that roared through downtown Shreveport and surrounding

communities Sunday evening.

The twisters toppled trees and utility poles, plunging thousands of

people into darkness and causing significant damage. Some areas were

still inaccessible early this morning, to emergency vehicles that

worked through the night to clear the roads.

At least one funnel cloud touched down in the heart of Shreveport,

and twisters also hit surrounding areas, especially in the town of

Castor. Early unconfirmed reports indicated there were a number of

injuries.

Chuck Mazziotti, director of the Caddo-Bossier Parish Office of

Emergency Preparedness, was driving to his office to oversee earlier

storm damage assessments Sunday night when a tornado tracked directly

over his Chevy Blazer.

"I was driving about 10 mph when the winds just kept getting stronger

and stronger. Then the tornado blew out the windows in my car. I got

to the floor and prayed. The wind was just howling. It really is a

train-like sound. Somehow, my car stayed upright," he said. "I've

been working in emergency response for 27 years and I've never seen a

tornado, let alone been in one."

"After that, I just drove on in to the office. I saw quite a bit of

damage through Shreveport. There were downed trees and power lines,

and small buildings were just torn up. I'm sure there was a lot of

glass breakage. The streets were cluttered. Now I'm assessing damages

and my car is out there getting rained on. It doesn't matter," he

added.

Reports on injuries and extensive damage were not yet confirmed, he added.

He said his office has opened two Emergency Operations Centers. One

shelter was also already open to house displaces tornado survivors,

and the office was planning to open up to two additional shelters.

Some local community centers and churches awaited word from emergency

management officials as to whether their facilities would be needed

as shelters.

"We're waiting for damage reports and for word from emergency

management," said David Owens at the Christian Development Center.

Power outages were making assessments difficult Sunday night, said

Matt Farlow, chief of operations for the Louisiana Office of

Emergency Preparations.

Joe Powell, captain of the Benton Volunteer Fire Department,

reporting for duty because of storm damages, was also caught by

surprise and parked under an overpass as a tornado knocked two

tractor trailer trucks over nearby. "We're all out clearing roads

right now," he said.

The tornado was a grim repeat of last year, when a tornado ripped

through the Shreveport area the day before Easter. That twister cut

an 8-mile swath across the Red River that continued through major

suburban subdivisions, including two mobile home parks. Six people

died in that storm, and more than 100 were injured. The hardest-hit

towns were Benton and Bossier City.

Last year, in Benton the Twin Point Trailer Park and Hay Meadow

Trailer Park were largely swept away. All those who died were

residents of one of the two trailer parks. That storm destroyed more

than 300 homes, and scores of people gathered at canteens and

shelters.

Last month, a tornado raked the town of Houma, damaging nearly 200

homes. Within Louisiana, disaster recovery is often overseen by the

interfaith group Terrebonne Recovery Assistance Committee (TRAC).

That organization formed in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

TRAC also works to prepare people for future disasters.

TRAC annually produces a 64-page guide for each of 13 southeastern

Louisiana parishes titled "Surviving the Storm, A Citizens Guide to

Emergency Preparedness" and has produced several videos on the

subject, including one called "Cooking Up a Storm," demonstrating how

to prepare and store food in times of disaster.

The organization has produced public service announcements in four

languages, as well as educational materials for the home health care

industry that particularly touch on issues for the elderly and

disabled.

In 1995, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) named TRAC

one of its models for the United States and published a summary of

the organization in their Exemplary Practices in Emergency Management

annual guide.

A study released last month by FEMA, which included a poll of people

living in Louisiana, found that more than half of people polled had

done nothing to safeguard their homes against tornadoes.

Fifty-six percent of 282 adults living in Louisiana and 14 other

states had taken no preventative measures, and 44 percent -- all

residing in tornado-prone states -- were unaware that actions taken

before a tornado could prevent tornado damage.

Among FEMA's recommendations include anchoring devices, reinforcing

garage doors, installing clips or straps to secure doors and roofs,

ensuring that homes meet building code requirements for high-wind

areas, properly bracing the end wall of gabled roofs to reduce lift,

and building tornado-safe rooms in homes and businesses. The survey

was conducted by FEMA's Project Impact division. Project Impact is an

initiative that encourages disaster-resistant communities.

Even as emergency officials respond to this season's tornadoes, they

are planning for hurricane season. Emergency managers met this month

in New Orleans to discuss more effective evacuations during hurricane

emergencies.

Posted April 24, 2000


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