RAYNE, La. —A tornado slammed a southwestern Louisiana town Saturday, killing a young mother who was protecting her child and injuring 11 other people. More than 100 houses and businesses were damaged, many of them destroyed, authorities said, and about 1,500 people were evacuated because of natural gas leaks.
Maxine Trahan, a spokeswoman for the Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office, said 21-year-old Jalisa Granger was killed when a tree fell on her house.
"She sheltered the child to protect her from the storm and a tree fell on the house and it killed the mother but the child was OK," Trahan said, adding that a relative who lived nearby found them.
Debris was littered throughout Rayne, a town of about 8,500 people, after a line of violent thunderstorms moved through the area and left behind a swath of damage about a quarter-mile wide and five miles long.
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Pieces of houses were strewn about the tops of trees, a school was damaged and power lines were down. A U.S. Postal Service truck was flipped on its side.
"It's a mess back there — a lot of damage," Trahan said. The community is near I-10 and about 70 miles west of Baton Rouge.
Trahan said the natural gas leaks, which were later fixed, delayed authorities trying to count how many houses and businesses were damaged. About 1,500 people were ordered out of the area for the night, she said, because officials feared more gas leaks could occur. A temporary shelter was set up at a fire station — about two dozen displaced persons were there Saturday night — and officials were working to find other shelters.
"There are houses off their foundations," said State Police Trooper Stephen Hammons. "There are houses that have been destroyed."
The National Weather Service sent a team to investigate and confirmed a tornado had struck the area.
The tornado's maximum estimated wind speed was 135 mph and it was classified EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, a NWS forecaster said late Saturday.
The system that hit Rayne drenched New Orleans, where several Mardi Gras parades were delayed, started earlier or got canceled because of the severe weather.