A vast and volatile storm system ripping across the United States has killed at least three people in Louisiana.
Several injuries were reported around the southeastern state by authorities and more than 40,000 power outages statewide as of Wednesday night.
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The system spun off a suspected tornado that killed a woman in southeast Louisiana’s St Charles Parish and another that pummelled parts of New Orleans and neighbouring Jefferson and St Bernard parishes.
The storm barrelled eastwards after killing a woman and her son in the northwestern part of the state on Tuesday.
A tornado struck New Iberia, Louisiana, slightly injuring five people and smashing out windows of a building at Iberia Medical Center, the hospital said.
As night drew on, tornado threats eased in Mississippi, although some counties in Florida and Alabama remained under a severe weather threat.
New Orleans emergency director Collin Arnold said businesses and residences in the city suffered significant wind damage, largely on the Mississippi River’s west bank.
One home collapsed, injuring four people. “The last word we had is that they were stable,” Arnold said.
Similar damage was reported nearby.
“Several homes and businesses have suffered catastrophic damage,” the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a statement from that large suburb west of New Orleans.
Among the heavily damaged buildings was the sheriff’s office’s training academy building.
‘The house was gone’
In St Bernard Parish, which had already been hit by a large tornado that killed one person in March, Sheriff Jimmy Pohlman said the latest damage covered a stretch of roughly 3.2 kilometres (2 miles).
Parish President Guy McInnis said the damage was less than what was caused by a tornado in March, though numerous roofs were blown away or damaged.
Authorities in St Charles Parish, west of New Orleans, said a woman was found dead there after a suspected tornado on Wednesday struck the community of Killona along the Mississippi River, damaging homes.
Eight people were taken to hospitals with injuries, they said.
“She was outside the residence, so we don’t know exactly what happened,” St Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said of the woman killed. “There was debris everywhere. She could have been struck. We don’t know for sure. But this was a horrific and a very violent tornado.”
About 450km (280 miles) away in northern Louisiana, it took hours for authorities to find the bodies of a mother and her child missing after a tornado swept away their mobile home on Tuesday in Keithville, south of Shreveport.
“You go to search a house and the house isn’t even there, so where do you search?” Governor John Bel Edwards told reporters, noting the challenge faced by emergency responders.
The Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office said the body of eight-year-old Nikolus Little was found late on Tuesday night in some woods and the body of his mother, Yoshiko A Smith, 30, under storm debris early on Wednesday.
Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Sergeant Casey Jones said the boy’s father had gone to pick up groceries before the storm. “He just went to go shopping for his family, came home and the house was gone,” Jones said.
In Union Parish, near the Arkansas line, Farmerville Mayor John Crow said a tornado on Tuesday night badly damaged an apartment complex where 50 families lived, wiping out a neighbouring trailer park with about 10 homes.
“It happened quick,” Crow said on Wednesday, adding that about 30 homes were damaged along nearby Lake D’Arbonne.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, depending on the timing of the storm. Residents from West Virginia to Vermont were told to watch for a possible significant mix of snow, ice and sleet.
“This system is notable for the fact that it’s going impact areas all the way from California to eventually the Northeast,” meteorologist Frank Pereira from the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland, told The Associated Press news agency.
A 520km (323-mile) span of Interstate 90 in South Dakota was closed on Wednesday, and state officials warned drivers there to stay off most highways.