Severe storms could affect 7 million people in Deep South

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 4:09 PM
Severe storms could affect 7 million people in Deep South

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A suspected tornado caused some damage but no injuries near New Orleans' main airport Tuesday as severe weather spawned possible twisters and high winds in parts of the Deep South, authorities said.

Emergency officials and the National Weather Service said the reported tornado was spotted near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in the suburban city of Kenner. It was believed to have touched down in a nearby field.

The storms were part of a line of severe weather rumbling across Southeast Louisiana. Severe weather watches were expected to last into the evening in the state.

In neighboring Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, in anticipation of severe weather.

High winds ripped off roofs and downed trees around the greater New Orleans area. Other suspected tornadoes were reported north of Lake Pontchartrain and west of the city in St. Charles and Ascension parishes.

In Kenner, cars were reported damaged at a parking lot near the airport. High winds sheared the brick and mortar from the rear wall of a church.

In Prairieville, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, heavy damage was reported to some buildings, including a fitness gym.

More than 6 million people in parts of five states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia — were in an area of moderate risk for a few strong tornadoes and other severe weather Tuesday, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, estimated.

"This whole system is evolving quite rapidly, and we expect things to start to pick up in the next few hours," Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center, said. Carbin noted that a tornado warning had already been issued in Louisiana, though there were no reports of any twisters touching down

Meanwhile, schools across south Louisiana and Mississippi canceled classes ahead of the storm, sending tens of thousands of students home early to avoid having buses on the road when severe storms arrived.

Forecasters said about half of Alabama had a moderate risk of severe weather including tornadoes.

The storms began as a line of fierce thunderstorms moved across Texas, raising the risk of tornadoes, hail and damaging winds around several states, forecasters said.

The South Texas storms left thousands of people without power and windows broken after hail the size of golf balls damaged some buildings, but no one was injured after the bad weather Monday night, according to the Kinney County Sheriff's Office in that state.

In Alabama and Georgia, forecasters issued flash flood watches ahead of the storm system, which was expected to drop 1 to 2 inches of rain, with higher amounts possible in some areas. The warnings, which covered large parts of both states, were expected to be in effect through Wednesday afternoon.

In Arkansas, heavy rain, powerful winds and some snow were forecast for parts of the state Tuesday and Wednesday. The National Weather Service in Little Rock described the storm system as a "three-headed monster" on its Facebook page.

The National Weather Service said new rain on already saturated soil could cause roads to flood, as well as low-lying areas and small streams. The weather service projected that some of the heaviest rain would fall in metro Atlanta and in parts of the north Georgia mountains, where up to 3 inches was expected.

The stormy weather canceled school in parts of South Texas and apparently contributed to a school bus flipping on a rain-slick highway in Houston.

The bus driver suffered minor injuries in the accident Tuesday morning, Houston Independent School District spokeswoman Lila Hollin said. No students were on board during what's believed to be a weather-related crash, Hollin said. The school bus ended on its side atop an embankment.

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Associated Press writers Chevel Johnson, Janet McConnaughey and Kevin McGill contributed to this story.