Louisiana: Apparent twister destroys buildings, 1 dead

At least one person was killed Monday as strong storms left a trail of smashed buildings, splintered trees and downed power lines in Louisiana, and forecasters said more states were in the bullseye.

One person died when an apparent tornado struck a small residential area in Vernon Parish, but details were not immediately available, said Chief Deputy Calvin Turner.

Officials fear others could be hurt in the area since crews were still trying to get into hard-hit areas where downed trees and power lines blocked roads, he said.

“We've got damage at lots of places. We've got a church where the fellowship hall is torn all to pieces. Some homes are hit. Right now we're having trouble just getting to places because of tress that are down," said Turner.

In nearby Alexandria, Louisiana, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans, a sheriff's official said the storm system left roads impassable, peeled the roof off of a church and destroyed a car lot.

“As of right now we’ve had people trapped. I don’t have any reported injuries,” said Capt. Phillip Jordan of the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office. Nearly 6,000 area homes and businesses were without power, according to the Louisiana utility Cleco.

The National Weather Service office in Lake Charles said it appeared the twister that hit in Alexandria also struck the town of DeRidder on a path that was an “absolutely ridiculous” 63 miles (101 kilometers) long, said meteorologist Donald Jones.

“I don't know what our records for the longest total in this area is, but that's got to be pretty damn close to it,” he said.

Entergy Mississippi reported more than 2,000 power outages in the neighboring state, concentrated mostly west of the state capital of Jackson along the path of a storm where a tornado was spotted on the ground.

There were no immediate reports of injuries there, but the weather service said the threat of severe weather would continue all day as a cold front mixed with warmer air.

About 1 million people live in an area of northeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi that had a moderate chance of dangerous weather, forecasters said. A tornado watch was issued from east Texas through Louisiana into central Mississippi and southern Arkansas.

Forecasters said a lesser threat extended into Alabama, western Georgia, the western Florida Panhandle and Tennessee as storms moved eastward.

School systems in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi dismissed students early and canceled afternoon events and activities as a precaution because of the weather threat.

Forecasters said tornadoes, hail and winds blowing at 70 mph (112 kph) posed the greatest threat as a cold front moved across the region in an easterly direction. Storms that are predicted to begin in the west could last until early Tuesday in the eastern, forecasters said.

Tornadoes in December aren't as unusual as they might seem.

Monday was the 19th anniversary of a Southeastern tornado outbreak that included a twister which killed 11 people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and storms on Dec. 1, 2018, spawned more than two dozen tornadoes in the Midwest.