Easter tornadoes roar across north Louisiana

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

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

are assessing the damages today from six tornadoes that roared through downtown Shreveport and surrounding communities Sunday evening, injuring at least seven people.

The twisters damaged buildings and toppled trees in northwestern Louisiana. The downtown area was blocked off Monday morning as emergency vehicles worked to clear the roads. Some 25,000 people were still without power Monday morning.

At least one funnel cloud touched down directly in the heart of Shreveport, littering the streets with ripped siding, shattered glass from

storefront windows, and downed trees. One woman suffered a heart attack during the storm.

Twisters also hit surrounding areas, especially in the town of

Castor. Through Louisiana bore the brunt of the storm, homes in Oklahoma and

eastern Texas also sustained damages. The town of Marshall, TX was hardest hit in that state, where a possible tornado knocked down trees and power lines. In Oklahoma, the town of Hartshorne was hardest hit, and one woman sustained minor injuries.

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

Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana, 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. Now I'm assessing damages

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


Some of the most severe impact occurred in a residential neighborhood south of Shreveport where at least 20 homes were damaged. Other pockets of extensive damage dot the Shreveport area, which has a population of about 340,000.

Mazziotti said his office has opened two Emergency Operations Centers.

One shelter was also already open to house displaced tornado survivors,

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

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.

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


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


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


Updated April 24, 2000

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