Update, 9:30 a.m.:
A St. James Parish official said searchers temporarily halted their search at the site of the Sugar Hill RV park Wednesday morning to allow residents to visit the site and collect personal items.
Searchers were using the break to regroup and allow search dogs to rest, according to Eric Deroche, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security.
Deroche said the number of missing people, reported on Tuesday to be three, could change based on a list of park residents provided by the owner and as residents continue to check in with authorities.
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Update, 9:45 p.m. Tuesday:
CONVENT -- At least two people are dead, up to three unaccounted for and nearly 40 injured after a tornado tore through the Sugar Hill trailer park in Convent Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
The storm tossed, crushed and leveled most of the estimated 160 trailers in the park injuring nearly 40 people, seven of them critically, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said.
About 300 people live in the RV park, Martin said, but it’s not known how many of them were home when the severe weather hit around 4 p.m. or how many of them were injured.
Gov. John Bel Edwards traveled to St. James Parish Tuesday night to see the damage, while declaring a state of emergency in seven parishes hit by severe weather.
“I will be honest with you: It’s a minor miracle there were only two fatalities,” Edwards said. “These travel trailers were picked up and blown apart.”
He said there are two or three people still unaccounted for, but that doesn’t mean they are dead or injured.
Martin said rescue crews have searched through most of the debris in the park and will continue the search throughout the night. Also dogs will be brought in to go through the crushed trailers one more time and to search through debris that was blown into a wooded area surrounding the park.
A staging area has been set up next to the park for rescue workers, he said.
Approaching the park on River Road from the north was not possible with telephone poles and electric lines that were splintered and lying in the road. Houses along more than a mile path on the road were also damaged or destroyed.
A complete assessment of how much damage to the area won’t be known until daylight Wednesday, officials said.
Martin said a hot line, (225) 562-2364, has been set up for residents of the park to call and report that they are safe or for worried family members to check on the welfare of their relatives living in the park.
The American Red Cross is opening shelters Tuesday in St. James Parish at Lutcher Senior Center and St. John the Baptist Parish at Emily C. Watkins School in LaPlace in collaboration with parish officials.
The Lutcher Senior Center is at 2461 Louisiana Ave. in Lutcher, next to the hospital. The LaPlace shelter is at Emily C. Watkins School, 938 Highway 628.