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Millions across Gulf Coast face more severe weather, flooding, suspected tornadoes

Gulf Coast hit with tornadoes and flooding
Gulf Coast hit with tornadoes and flooding 02:28

A turbulent storm system barreled through Gulf Coast states on Wednesday, leaving major roads flooded and spawning suspected tornadoes. Multiple severe thunderstorms — which can be breeding grounds for twisters in certain climates — were forecast, with Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama facing the highest risks of dangerous weather. One death was reported, in Mississippi, in connection with the weather.

Meteorologists warned people to prepare for damaging, and potentially hurricane-force winds, as well as several possible tornadoes. 

"Widespread severe thunderstorms are expected today across parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. Tornadoes and widespread damaging winds are anticipated," the Storm Prediction Center said in an advisory posted around 6 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.

"All forms of severe weather will be possible, including tornadoes, some of which may be strong, and widespread damaging wind swaths with embedded significant severe gusts over 75 mph," the advisory said.

Hurricane-force winds must have sustained speeds of at least 74 miles per hour to fit that classification on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Even at that baseline speed, wind gusts are considered "very dangerous" and capable of producing some damage to buildings and infrastructure, like roads and power lines, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

The tracking site showed that around 217,000 energy customers were without power Wednesday evening. As of 7 p.m. ET, outages were mostly affecting Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Louisiana reported roughly 112,000 customers were without electricity, which was the highest statewide total among those four.

Some of the most significant weather hazards on Wednesday were expected in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

Various tornado watches and warnings were ordered in intervals on Wednesday across the Gulf states in the path of the storm. In the morning and early afternoon, more than 4 million people in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were under a tornado watch that was expected to remain effective until 1 p.m. CDT, according to the National Weather Service. The watch area includes both states' capital cities, Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, and other major metropolitan centers like New Orleans. Meteorologists warned that places within the bounds of this advisory would likely see a few tornadoes and widespread wind gusts up to 80 miles per hour. Scattered hail, potentially as large as ping-pong balls, was also possible.

The weather service put out additional tornado watches and warnings in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as the day went on. A tornado watch is issued when atmospheric conditions during a storm could potentially produce a twister, whereas a tornado warning is issued when one has been physically spotted or indicated by weather radar.

A suspected tornado was reported before 8 a.m. CDT in Louisiana, between the towns of New Roads and Saint Francisville, which are north of Baton Rouge in the state's panhandle. CBS News is working to confirm that the twister happened and learn more about it if it did. Another suspected twister was reported farther south in Slidell, outside of New Orleans, where meteorologists said that thunderstorms had caused flash flooding through the metro area. 

The Slidell Police Department shared a video on Facebook Wednesday afternoon that showed debris characterized in the post as "tornado damage." But Michael Musher, a meteorologist and spokesperson for the National Weather Service, told CBS News on Wednesday afternoon that a twister had not technically been confirmed in that area. He said the same of another suspected tornado that local outlets reported on in Raymond, Mississippi, which is near Jackson. 

However, the NWS later reported on social media that the damage from the storm in Slidell appeared to be consistent with a tornado.

"I've lived here all my life, this is the worst damage I've seen from an immediate storm like we had this morning," Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal said in a news conference Wednesday night, adding that there were no major injuries or fatalities reported in the city.

APTOPIX Severe Weather Louisiana
Robin Marquez, project coordinator for E.C.O. Builders, walks past her son's heavily damaged car after they sheltered in place inside the business in the aftermath of severe storms that swept through the region in Slidell, Louisiana, on April 10, 2024. Gerald Herbert / AP

Officials in St. Tammany Parish, which includes Slidell, reported the impact of the suspected tornado was catastrophic and extensive, with more than 100 buildings damaged. About 50 people had to be rescued after winds sheared the roof off a Slidell apartment building.

"While we were trying to pack a few things, my ceiling caved in, his ceiling caved in," a resident of the building told a local news outlet. 

Flash flooding in New Orleans swelled roads, overwhelmed drivers and marooned vehicles.

The NWS also reported that a tornado with maximum winds of 115 miles per hour struck the city of Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana. The tornado was responsible for "destroying the roofs of several homes," the NWS said. 

As the storm moved east, it also flooded highways and causeways in Mobile, Alabama.     

Because severe thunderstorms had only recently hit southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, Musher emphasized that the situation in those regions was "ever-changing," but storm survey teams in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Jackson would all likely begin to investigate the damage left behind later on Wednesday or early on Thursday.

"As of right now, the Storm Prediction Center shows no reports of tornadoes since this morning," Musher said of the reported twisters in Slidell and Raymond. "In addition to the possible tornadic thunderstorms, heavy rain is producing flash flooding across these areas, especially in and around the New Orleans metro."

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office said that the weather was observably destructive in that area. The office described "extensive damage from possible tornadoes in the city limits of Slidell ... and surrounding areas" in a statement" and noted that storms had caused flooding, downed trees and cut power lines throughout the parish. 

"The full extent of the damage is not known at this time. We are asking for people to stay put and stay off the roadways," the statement read.

The bout of severe weather was not expected to let up even after striking the Gulf Coast states during the first half of Wednesday. Come afternoon, meteorologists said the storm would probably cause "weak destabilization" over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle while moving east. That means an atmospheric environment that lends itself to severe wind gusts, and potentially even tornadoes, is set to develop in those regions. 

Densely-populated parts of southeastern Texas were at risk of damaging thunderstorms as well as possible tornadoes as the storm system blew through Houston and its surrounding areas before continuing to track east. The weather service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for more than 7 million people in that region overnight, warning that tornadoes were possible with destructive wind gusts potentially reaching 85 mph. That thunderstorm watch expired at 7 a.m. CDT, and trailed a a barrage of severe weather events in central Texas at the top of the week. 

There were no tornadoes confirmed within the latest watch area on Wednesday morning, but one was confirmed to have hit a community outside of Houston overnight. Preliminary evidence collected by the National Weather Service's forecast in Houston suggested that an EF-1 tornado had occurred in the city of Katy, said Musher. He added that the survey was still ongoing there, too.

The police chief in Port Arthur told KFDM that a suspected tornado had also damaged homes and some public buildings in that area, including a church. 

Meanwhile, the storm did bring torrential rain to broad sections of southeastern Texas, causing flooding that in some places prompted evacuations and highway closures. In Kirbyville, a city near the Louisiana border about 60 miles north of Port Arthur, officials said all major roads were inundated and shut down, with rescue efforts underway in the area.

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