Deadly tornado blasts across NW Louisiana

BY SUSAN KIM | SHREVEPORT | April 5, 1999


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

home parks.

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

do."

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

clean."

"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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