Update: 11:55 a.m.:
Investigators with the National Weather Service are expected in Livingston on Wednesday afternoon to assess the damage and estimate the wind speed of the tornado that blew through the town Tuesday, clipping trees, downing power lines and damaging about 35-40 homes, said Mark Harrell, director of the parish's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
No injuries or fatalities have been reported, but businesses and homes near the intersection of U.S. 190 and La. 63 took a pretty severe beating, he said.
"It's a lot of damage," Harrell said. "Hopefully we can get some individual assistance through FEMA. I've also been on the phone with United Way, and they have some programs and are willing to work with us."
The Red Cross and Louisiana Baptist Association are providing assistance to those whose homes and businesses were damaged, with the latter providing chainsaw crews to help remove trees from structures, Harrell said.
"We can't go on private property, but they can do some cleanup and get it to the road and we'll take it from there," he said.
LIVINGSTON — Livingston is a railroad town. Locomotives rumble along the tracks every day, blaring their horns at crossings. Carolyn Miller, who lives near the tracks, has heard people say tornados sound like a train rushing down the tracks.
Those people are wrong.
Miller was sitting on the couch at her home Tuesday afternoon talking with her daughter over the phone, telling her a tornado warning had been issued for Livingston Parish. How would she even tell a tornado from a passing train, she recalled thinking. Then the storm hit.
“I grabbed the baby and ran,” she said of her 5-year-old son.
They rushed into the bathtub, Miller still clutching the phone as they ran.
“It’s here, it’s here! It got me!” she yelled.
When the chaos passed — it may have been a minute, or maybe just a few seconds — Miller looked out. An enormous tree had been ripped from the ground and crashed through the roof of her trailer. Smashed under the limbs and debris was the couch she had been sitting in moments ago.
Outside, her carport had been flung into a tree stand, looking like a movie screen made out of twisted metal.
“I think I just experienced the scariest thing in my life,” she said.
Like Miller, Homer Thornton lost his carport, which was crumpled and flung across U.S. 190. He also called the tornado the scariest moment in his life, but he wasn’t fearful in the moment.
“You didn’t have time to be scared. It was too fast.”
Danielle Devin and her family didn’t even have time to make it to their bathtub. She described the eerie and rapid buildup to the tornado’s approach.
“It got dark, dark. … Everything started shaking,” she recalled.
“The whole house shook. … This is a house, and it shook.”
Branches began to whip through the air. While her home survived mostly intact, limbs fell on multiple cars outside, shattering windows.
The winds busted, battered and ripped at homes throughout the Livingston area. The roof of one house on Marsh Road had its roof peeled off. Nearby, a moving truck for a furniture company lay on its side off U.S. 190. The men inside told Todd Simon, who lives nearby, that the tornado picked the vehicle up and threw it off the road. Simon described the bizarre sight of watching his own trampoline spin in midair as the winds picked up.
In the aftermath, children carried filled trash bags from storm-battered and waterlogged homes. They danced between power lines, which hung over streets from leaning power lines and coiled like snakes in the grass.
Roads were closed, and everywhere else the ground was churned muck or standing water frequently mixed with shards of pine or pieces of someone’s home.
Amidst the still-falling rain, some residents and business owners began bringing chainsaws to tree limbs and plywood or tarps to damaged roofs. Neighbors could be heard offering help to those more in need.
All told, the tornado damaged at least 35 to 40 homes, said Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
That number may rise, though. The tornado continued through a rural area where several roads are closed, and it will take time for crews to assess all the damage.
The storm system came from Prairieville, and coalesced around the town of Livingston, touching down just north of the parish courthouse, Harrell said. It continued northwest and generally affected buildings in an area roughly bordered by La. 442 to the north, U.S. 190 to the south, La. 63 to the east and La. 1036 to the west, near Holden. Parish officials last spotted the system heading in the direction of Tangipahoa Parish, though officials there reported little storm damage.
Despite the damage, Harrell said Tuesday afternoon that no injuries or fatalities had been reported. The tornado had not yet been given a rating on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which estimates tornado wind speeds. Harrell expected a rating will be determined Wednesday.