BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Strong winds flipped a mobile home off its foundation Sunday in Louisiana, killing a mother and her 3-year-old daughter as a storm system with hurricane-force winds crawled across the Deep South, damaging homes and businesses.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards put the entire state on “high alert” and warned residents to stay off the roads. He urged people to keep their cellphones charged and close by so that they could get severe weather alerts throughout Sunday night and Monday morning.
“It is an extremely dangerous weather event,” he said.
Parts of Arkansas and Mississippi were also under a threat of tornadoes, but the bullseye was on Louisiana. The system brought unconfirmed tornadoes to the state as well as heavy thunderstorms, large hail and flash flooding.
In the rural community of Breaux Bridge, about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge, St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Maj. Ginny Higgins told The Associated Press that a suspected tornado touched down soon after a warning was issued.
“Seconds later it hit,” Higgins said. “It hit the trailer, flipped it and tore its side off. There was a mother and daughter inside and both were killed.”
Higgins said 38-year-old Francine Gotch and 3-year-old Neville Alexander were pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told KLFY-TV that the father was out at the time and returned home to find the bodies amid the splintered debris.
The governor said powerful straight-line winds destroyed the mobile home. Typically after such damage, the National Weather Service will investigate and determine if the damage was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds.
Edwards held an afternoon press conference, carried live by CBS affiliate WAFB-TV.
“This is a severe weather event and it deserves all of our attention,” Edwards said.
“This is a state-wide weather event and it pertains to everyone in Louisiana and could be an all-night event until Monday mid-morning,” he said.
He urged everyone to stay on guard as the storm passes through the state. National Weather Service warned that it was a “particularly dangerous situation.”
The Storm Prediction Center has placed portions of the state in the “high risk” category for tornadoes which is rare for Louisiana, the governor’s office said in a statement. That area extends from western-central Louisiana to north Louisiana, and it means that there is a threat of EF-2 — or greater — tornadoes.
Damaging winds stronger than 75 mph, and large hail, are possible, the statement said. Significant tornado potential will spread across the lower Mississippi Valley into Sunday evening.
Much of the rest of the state is in the “moderate risk” to “enhanced risk” category, said the governor’s office. Excessive rainfall is also expected, with 3-6 inches or more falling in many areas by Monday morning.
“The threat doesn’t end today,” said National Weather Service meteorologist John Hart in Oklahoma. “There’s also a significant risk for tomorrow in Mississippi into southern Alabama and so on as the system keeps moving.”
Fire officials in the Texas village of Point Venture said several people witnessed an apparent funnel cloud there Sunday morning. Travis County Emergency Services District 1 Fire Chief Donnie Norman said there were several structures with severe damage.
“There was one home with pretty heavy damage. The roof was completely removed. There was one resident there at the time, but she received no major injuries,” Norman said.
A Texas state trooper reported seeing a suspected tornado touch down early Sunday morning near Center Point, Texas, about 55 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. National Weather Service meteorologist Yvette Benavides said there were no reports of major or structural damage.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said the storms are likely to cause significant wind damage near the Interstate 20 corridor in east Texas and Louisiana throughout the day and into Sunday night. The center said there is a risk of baseball-sized hail and tornadoes, including strong ones, in those areas.
In Dallas, about 40,000 basketball fans had to make new plans after incoming storms forced officials to cancel outdoor activities on Sunday.