NEW ORLEANS -- A tornado ripped off roofs, knocked down utility polls and cut off power to thousands in New Orleans early Wednesday, but no serious injuries were reported in what one city official called an unexpected “dry run” for the approaching hrricane season.
Wind and driving rain roared through parts of the Louisiana port city around 2 a.m., leaving damage in the Carrollton and Broadmoor neighborhoods of uptown New Orleans and across the Mississippi River in the Algiers Point area.
The National Weather Service had issued a warning of a possible tornado as the winds hit. Meteorologists confirmed at an afternoon news conference that they had studied the damage and confirmed it was caused by a tornado and not straight-line winds.
The tornado was rated an “EF-0" with winds of 85 mph (137 kph).
As many as 10,000 people in the city were without power at one point though the number dwindled to less than 2,000 by Wednesday afternoon as debris removal continued amid the whine of chain saws removing downed trees. Officials also reported numerous traffic lights knocked out by the storm.
City emergency preparedness director Collin Arnold, speaking at a news conference, called the storm “pretty much a dry run for what we are going to face in a few weeks with hurricane season.” The season starts June 1.
The city news conference was held about a block from where long, twisted sections of metal roofing and pieces of air conditioning equipment littered the yard beneath Sarah Smith’s bedroom window. She had watched the debris scatter down from a neighbor’s higher roof.
“The storm was loud,” she said. “And then we saw it all flashing by."
A huge oak tree blocked a nearby street. Large tree limbs and downed utility polls lay across damaged automobiles in several other spots and utility crews shored up a power pole dangling over the iron fence of a city cemetery.
Gerlie Weinstein watched as she walked her small dog among the tombstones. She said she had slept through the initial roar of the storm but was awakened by a tornado alarm on her phone. “Then, a lot of wind. But we’re used to that,” she said. “And then the power went out.”
The New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness activated its emergency operations center to coordinate response efforts, city officials said.
More storms were possible around the Deep South later Wednesday, with a marginal risk of severe weather in parts of Georgia and Florida, according to the national Storm Prediction Center.
Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, contributed to this report.