A potent springtime low-pressure system fueled with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico spawned at least seven tornadoes across central and southeast Louisiana on Sunday and early Monday as heavy winds and rain toppled trees and power lines, causing spot house flooding and power outages.
Gov. John Bel Edwards visited St. Martin Parish officials Monday afternoon and met privately with a Breaux Bridge-area man who lost his wife and daughter to a tornado early Sunday. And earlier Monday, a handful homeowners in Livingston Parish watched as floodwaters receded from homes still under repair from flooding in August.
Though the tornado in St. Martin Parish had a relatively narrow, 20-yard-wide path of destruction that went for less than a mile, it claimed the life of 38-year-old Francine Gotch and 3-year-old Nevaeh Alexander. The 110-mph maximum winds of the EF1 twister flipped their mobile home near Breaux Bridge, crushing the mother and child.
The man, identified by the governor as Edward Alexander, had left to go to the grocery store before the storm hit Sunday and returned home to find the devastation.
"He lost everything, not just Francine and his daughter, but also all of his possessions," Edwards said.
The governor, who declared a state of emergency across the state after the storms, said a special account has been set up for the family, and donations are being accepted at all St. Martin Parish locations of Farmers Merchants Bank & Trust Co.
Once out of the Breaux Bridge area early Sunday, the storm front continued moving east and north across the state, dropping heavy rains on the Baton Rouge area overnight and spinning off at least four more tornadoes in Rapides Parish and two more in St. Tammany Parish, according to the National Weather Service.
Four barges moored in Lake Pontchartrain west of the Causeway Bridge broke loose in high winds and rough water, shutting the 24-mile span linking New Orleans to its northshore suburbs in St. Tammany for a little more than two hours.
State and local homeland security officials said heavy, intense rains prompted 250 high-water rescues from homes in Rapides Parish and flooded one home in East Baton Rouge Parish and three homes in the Watson area of Livingston Parish. Neither parish in the Baton Rouge area, however, had tornadoes pass through.
Mark Harrell, Livingston Parish homeland security director, said he knows two of the three homes that flooded in Watson early Monday were under repair from the August flood and its residents "were about to move back in."
Tim Destri, a meteorologist with the Weather Service office in Slidell, said the Watson area, which is in the northwest corner of that parish, received 5.16 inches of rain as of 8 a.m. Monday. The Vernon Parish community of Fullerton north of Lake Charles appears to have received the most rainfall from the system statewide at 9.74 inches, Destri added.
Harrell said much of the rain in Livingston Parish fell Monday between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., forcing the road closures until midmorning.
Unlike the August flood in Livingston, which stemmed primarily from backwater flooding, this event came from flash flooding from the heavy rain, Harrell said.
With the floodwaters largely receded late Monday morning in Watson, contractors were at work in Ricky Rowe’s driveway, putting the final touches on his new granite counter tops before they were installed over his new cabinets.
Rowe, 64, and his wife, Terri, are still refurbishing their home after getting about a foot of floodwater in August, though they have been living in the home for a time.
Hours earlier on Monday, before the contractors arrived, floodwater covered the portion of Olivia Drive in front of the Rowes’ house with nearly 3 feet of water. About an inch reached inside the front portion of their home.
Ricky Rowe, who had vacuumed up the water and had a dehumidifier going by midday Monday, was able to save his new furniture and figured at the most, he might have to touch up the wallboard. He has tile floors.
“I’m not what you would call, I guess, a quitter,” Rowe said as the contractors’ saw buzzed in his driveway.
He said his home has had drainage problems since before he and Terri moved into the Jones Estates neighborhood off La. 16 about 20 years ago, though the August flood and Monday event have been the worst.
Parish officials said they are planning a fix for the area.
Harrell, the parish homeland security official, noted his parish has been part of three declared disasters within about a year's time: floods in March and August and severe tornadoes in February.
"We can't get a break," said Harrell, who said he does not believe this event will lead to another federal disaster declaration.
Despite the tragedy in Breaux Bridge and spot flooding around Baton Rouge, Gov. Edwards said the state was spared widespread damage.
"As significant as it was, it could have been much, much worse," Edwards said. "Tomorrow, the state will be pretty much back to normal with the exception of this Alexander family here in the Breaux Bridge area."