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Repair Efforts Began Day After 21 Tornadoes Swept Across Louisiana

Mon December 19, 2022 - Southeast Edition #26

After 21 tornadoes touched down in Louisiana over the course of 24 hours on Dec. 14, residents across this weather-battered state, who have contended with a litany of severe storms over the last few years, from major hurricanes to twisters, woke up the next morning to an eerily familiar scene.

WWNO Radio in New Orleans reported homes had shifted off their foundations, and roofs had blown away. People's belongings were scattered across the street, downed power lines cut off roads, and linemen queued up to begin repairs, yet again.

The storms killed three people and injured dozens of other as a strong cold front carried a line of tornadoes, hail and heavy rain east-northeast across the state. Near Shreveport, in Caddo Parish, a tornado took the lives of a mother and child. Farther south, another storm caused a fatality in the St. Charles Parish town of Killoma, west of New Orleans.

Crews Get to Work to Repair New Iberia's Damage

In the south-central Louisiana town of New Iberia, crews were brought in to pick up and remove debris from damaged areas, after an EF-2 tornado, with top winds of 135 mph, touched down there. In addition, power company crews were seen removing and replacing downed power lines, according to KLFY-TV in nearby Lafayette.

With a width of no more than 300 yds., the twister was on the ground for 10 minutes just before 11 a.m. Dec. 14, and traveled about 4.4 mi., the National Weather Service confirmed Dec. 16.

Fortunately, no deaths were reported in New Iberia, but Gov. John Bel Edwards, on a tour of the city Dec. 15, reported 16 injuries, one of which was serious, in Iberia Parish. In addition, the storms caused major structural harm throughout the area.

The multi-story medical arts building at Iberia Medical Center (IMC) took a direct hit from the tornado and suffered considerable damage, noted the Daily Iberian, the city's news source.

"I will tell you we can be very thankful here in Iberia Parish that there was no loss of life," Edwards said.

The governor flew in on a U.S. Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk Pilot helicopter from which he said he could see where the tornado started outside of Iberia Parish.

"The first thing we saw coming in from Baton Rouge [as] we were flying over some cane fields [was] tremendous debris, and you could follow [the path] of the debris right to the medical arts building," he explained.

Despite the damage, the hospital was able to remain open and treat current and new patients.

"We had structural engineers look at the medical office building and they determined it is structurally sound," said IMC CEO Dionne Victor. "We are [also] looking at other issues like fire safety. The hospital has had some damage, but nothing that has stopped us from being fully open."

Lisa Landry, director of marketing of IMC, added that IMC's north and main campuses had power, water pressure and were fully functional 24 hours after the storm's rampage.

In addition to the hospital, KLYF-TV reported major damage to a dentist's office and the Southport Apartments in New Iberia took a heavy blow from the tornado. The apartment complex's stairs had their railings ripped away and the roof was completely torn off.

Around town, several brick walls also collapsed.

Residents in an afflicted mobile home park in the Southport subdivision experienced their homes being lifted off the ground and thrown from their brick foundations.

Contractors Hope to Soon Begin Rebuild Efforts

Luis Cruz, a New Iberia contractor, told KLFY-TV that he did not know what he would face when he got the call for help at a home along Estate Drive.

"I really didn't expect it to be that bad, [but] a whole roof is basically gone."

He and his crew spent the entire day after the twisters struck cleaning up debris and placing tarps on the home's roof in preparation for its reconstruction.

Cruz explained that they made good progress and hope to return when the family gets the green light from their insurance company for the rebuild to begin.

With more than 3,400 homes and businesses without power in the immediate aftermath of the tornado, CLECO Power spokesperson Fran Phoenix told the Lafayette TV station that crews worked non-stop to get customers' electricity restored.

By 5 p.m. on Dec. 15, she said, less than 400 customers were still without power.

New Orleans Suburbs Slammed by Large Twister

To the east, the Crescent City stayed under a tornado warning for much of the afternoon of Dec. 14, although the city itself ended up being spared from the storm's wrath.

Instead, an EF-2 tornado moved through the New Orleans' suburbs, south of the Mississippi River, before crossing the waterway and slamming into Arabi, a community that borders the city's Lower Ninth Ward.

In Gretna, the storm ripped away a part of the roof of Joe Glorioso's 114-year-old house on 9th Street, exposing the inside of his home to the pouring rain. By late the next morning, he had already cleared much of the house of furniture, piled outside on the curb. The home's ceiling in one now-vacant room sagged with water.

"I'm in shock," Glorioso told WWNO. "It'll hit me, but it's stuff we get through."

Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant said about 30 structures in the city were destroyed, with hundreds more damaged by the powerful twister. Most of the destruction, she explained, was in the area between Fourth and Sixth streets on Gretna's riverside.

Next door, in the city of Harvey, another New Orleans suburb, Alisha Lanier spent the morning raking up debris outside her home along with a contracting crew. She was there when the tornado hit.

"The barometric pressure dropped, and my ears popped," she told WWNO. "And that's how you know it's a tornado."

She was safe, but a massive steel beam had impaled the roof of her house. Once she could get it out, she was confident she could get back up on her feet.

Keith Eccles had just finished repairing his Gretna home after Hurricane Ida dealt it a blow last year. An artist and art teacher at West Jefferson High School, the shed of his home had blown down the block, and the tornado ripped away his roof too.

He was thankful that neighbors had stepped in to help him move his paintings from his house to his studio next door after the worst of the storm passed, and that his family came out of the severe weather alive.

For the residents of Arabi in St. Bernard Parish, this is the second time in less than a year that a tornado has devastated the tiny community, WWNO reported.

Merritt Landry spent the morning after the storm on his Bobcat skid steer — a must-have, he said, when you live in Louisiana and often experience hurricanes and tornadoes — picking up broken glass and other debris strewn around his home in Arabi.

He sheltered from the storm in the hallway, huddling with his family and pet dog. Their roof suffered damage, but he said everyone is in good spirits.

"We're resilient people — we'll be back," he said.

State, Local Governments Will Pay to Rebuild

Despite all the tornado destruction across Louisiana, Gov. Edwards warned that the damage in the state was likely not bad enough for the state to qualify for funding from Washington, but he wanted taxpayers to know local governments and the state will pick up the costs for repairs.

"At this point, we don't think we will meet the requirements for assistance from the federal government," he said during his tour of New Iberia. "We don't have $8.2 billion worth of damage across the state or enough damage in [Iberia Parish]. So, this will be on the state and on the local government and I want to make sure people are aware of that." CEG

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