SHREVEPORT (April 5, 1999) -- Easter weekend became a tragedy for many
across northwest Louisiana when, early Saturday evening, a deadly tornado
touched down near Shreveport and cut an 8-mile swath across the Red River
that continued through major suburban subdivisions, including two mobile
As search and rescue operations continue in Louisiana, another tornado was
sighted in Wichita, KS at 8:27 a.m. Monday morning, causing some property
damage but no reported injuries, according Sandra Johnson, operations
officer for the State of Kansas Emergency Management Office.
In Louisiana, six people are confirmed dead and three are listed in
critical condition at Louisiana State University Hospital. More than 100
others are injured, most from the hardest hit towns of Benton and Bossier
City. 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.
Damage was also reported in the town of Caddo, where the tornado blew the
roof from an apartment building.
A tornado watch was lifted late last night in northwest Louisiana, and
search and rescue operations resumed at 8 a.m. this morning, said Chuck
Mazziotti, director of the Bossier Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Mazziotti estimated that more than 300 homes were destroyed, and scores of
people have gathered at canteens and shelters administered by the American
Red Cross and Salvation Army. Buddy Puryear, business manager of the
Shreveport chapter of Salvation Army, said that reports of more deaths,
injuries, and destruction keep filtering in. "Some roads are still blocked
by debris, so we can't even get into some areas," he said. "Military
helicopters were surveyed the damage yesterday, and some people are going
in on foot."
Governor Mike Foster is scheduled to visit the area today to assess damages
and consider a state disaster declaration.
The skies over the damaged area were a-buzz yesterday with military
helicopters, news helicopters, and residents in private planes. Roads
leading into the area were jammed with traffic yesterday, and some
emergency vehicles and utility trucks faced a 45-minute wait before
reaching disaster sites.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army are providing hot meals, and several
shelters have been activated as well. Adventist Community Services is also
assisting the hundreds of people who have been displaced by the storm. The
National Guard is clearing debris along with teams from the nearby
Barksdale Air Force Base, using bulldozers to clear fallen walls and roofs,
and towing away vehicles smashed by trees.
Counselors from the Northwest Mental Health Coalition are walking through
damaged neighborhoods to help stunned families cope. Volunteers from
faith-based and community organizations are traveling from throughout the
state, as well as Texas and Arkansas, to help. State police reports say
that there has been no looting so far.
The First Baptist Church in Benton, one of few churches in the area with
electricity, remained open Saturday night as a shelter. Thousands of people
are still without power.
Local churches say they stand ready to collect donations. "We've already
been told not to donate clothes, because there is no place to store them,
but we're ready to donate many other things that people need," said Wendy
Coker, a member of First Baptist Church. "This has been a very strange
Easter for all of us."
The tornado nearly leveled the First Methodist Church in Logansport,
ripping off the roof, destroying the steeple, and causing major structural
damage. Several miles down the road, the Logansport First Baptist Church
sustained only minor damage. "But we're stunned for this community," said
First Baptist member Anne Hall. "We're still up in the air about what to
A bank and several commercial buildings were also damaged in east
Logansport, and some may have to be demolished.
Damage is so extensive in some areas that people simply can't locate their
mobile homes or their vehicles. "There was a concrete slab right next to
our canteen that just had a push lawnmower sitting there. I found out later
it used to be someone's house," said Puryear. "It has just been swept
"People are getting out of the hospital, and walking back through their
neighborhoods on crutches and in their hospital scrubs, just stunned that
they've lost everything," he said.
John May, a volunteer firefighter from Benton, said that he has gotten five
hours of sleep since responding to his pager on Saturday evening. "And I'm
one of the lucky ones," he said. "But already I'm touched by the help
that's starting to come in from everywhere."
May is among the teams of local and state firefighters, police, search and
rescue officials, and military teams that are still combing the damaged
neighborhoods with dogs to search for missing people.
Mazziotti said that the tornado touched down when many people were
gathering for Easter vigil services. If more churches had weather warning
radios, he said, people would have had more time to prepare. "I would
encourage churches to purchase weather warning radios. They're not like the
weather radios of yesterday. For instance, they have a voice warning that
tells you the path of the storm, then offers safety information," he said.
Weather warning radios cost between $30-$70.
Updated April 7, 1999
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