Update, 1:35 p.m.:
PRAIRIEVILLE — Residents were working Wednesday to cleanup after a tornado ripped through a major commercial strip along one of Ascension Parish's busiest traffic corridors on Tuesday.
Parish officials said the path of the severe winds cut across Airline Highway near the La. 42 intersection and headed to the northeast causing minor damage in the Oak Grove area and parts farther northeast toward Bayou Manchac.
A cluster of businesses on either side of Airline, near its intersection with La. 42, in Prairieville, appeared to have borne the brunt of the damaging winds.
The north wall of Gold’s Gym, which had just opened in December in the Commerce Centre Shopping Center on Airline, was ripped off of the building, along with a portion of the roof. No one was injured.
Sheet metal, planes of glass and insulation lay in a soaking mess on the ground, where the wall had fallen outward. Inside, employees were moving exercise machines and equipment away from the open end of the building. By around 2 p.m., employees and roofing workers on the scene had managed to secure a large blue tarp from the ceiling to cover the exposed end of the gym.
Mark Gulina, one of three managers of the business and the night supervisor of the gym, said he wasn’t in the building when the tornado struck around noon, but the manager who was there told him that he went to the door and opened it a bit, but the door began to shake and he pulled it shut.
In the next seconds, Gulina said the manager told him, the end of the building’s roof seemed to just pop off and the end wall tumbled out.
Gold’s Gym, a Louisiana business with another location in Breaux Bridge, will come back from the storm damage, Gulina said.
“We’re going to get right on repairs as soon as we can and reopen,” he said.
At Investar Bank, just 15 or so feet away, across a strip of grass from the gym, huge strips of twisted sheet metal that might have once been a canopy or awning on the bank were tossed about on the parking lot.
Across Airline from the gym and the bank, several businesses took a hit.
The side wall of a Kean’s dry cleaning business had been torn off, exposing the lobby area with its counter.
The Kean’s sign lay maybe 20 yards away in the parking lot of another business, Check Engine Automotive Tire Service.
Cars in the parking lot had their windshields and windows broken out, with the interiors of the cars exposed to the rain.
Next to Check Engine, a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen location was missing its sign.
A home as far northeast as John Broussard and Welsh roads had roof and siding damage with siding strewn across a nearby fence.
Homeowner Chris Launey, father of two, said he was in the house on John Broussard Road when it was hit and was trying to figure out what to do next with rainfall still pouring into his home .
"I'm a single dad. I got two kids and my house just got hit. At least my dog's alright," Launey said.
Lance Roux, 43, of Baton Rouge, said he was driving south on Airline Highway in Prairieville near Popeye's and in traffic when he believes he was caught in the suspected tornado that cut through the commercial area near La. 42.
He said the clouds seem to come down low to the ground with the bottom of the clouds just above the telephone poles along the highway.
He said the rain became a downpour with bigger than normal drops, and cars starting pulling over to the side of the road.
"As soon as I thought, oh, I'm in the middle of a tornado, that's when I was in it. It happened that quick," Roux said.
Roux said he never saw a cone but felt he was inside or under the tornado and was terrified, worrying his vehicle or other vehicles would be flipped over amid the wind and flying debris.
"It was just shaking and the wind was coming from all directions and the debris was flying everywhere, and I just gripped my steering wheel and just kind of hoped everything would stop soon," Roux said.
He said the winds finally passed -- probably no more than just a few minutes, he said -- and he could see the damage to businesses along Airline.
"So I was right there when it went through. I felt like it went right over us or right through us," he said.
Polly Glover, 48, who lives on Welsh Drive in the Prairieville area well northeast of the La. 42/Airline intersection, said her 17-year-old son, Joe, first heard the tornado coming toward their home.
"His comment was, 'Mom, there's a plane in trouble,'" Glover said.
She said she and one of her other sons realized the whistling sound wasn't a plane at all.
"And the next thing you know you see all the construction debris -- it starts cycloning. And I screamed and I said, 'Get inside (to her sons),'" Glover said.
She said the debris came from a nearby construction site and the swirl of debris moved in front of her house and hit two of her neighbors' homes, largely avoiding her own.