Tornado in Garyville, houses flood, 1 death

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A line of severe storms swept through southern Louisiana on Wednesday, unleashing a tornado that damaged an oil refinery, downpours that caused widespread street and home flooding, and lightning that is believed to have sparked a house fire. At least one person died, apparently after being swept under a truck by rushing water, authorities said.
An EF-1 tornado, about 150 yards wide with maximum winds estimated near 105 mph, hit Garyville about 5:30 a.m., the National Weather Service said.
The tornado damaged a cooling tower at the Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery, shutting down the crude oil unit it served, and two refinery workers needed minor first aid, company spokesman Jamal Kheiry said in an email. The unit probably will remain closed until the cooling tower is fixed, he said. He added that other refinery units, including a second crude refining unit, were still operating.
There were no other reports of injuries in St. John the Baptist Parish, where the only other reported damage was a few flooded houses, parish spokeswoman Baileigh Rebowe said.
Some homes and businesses also flooded in adjacent St. James Parish, but officials were still tallying the damage, spokeswoman Melissa Wilkins said.
Nearly 50 houses and apartments flooded in St. Landry Parish, 32 of them in an area north of Sunset that got 7 inches of rain, administrative director Jesse Bellard estimated.
“The drainage in that area doesn’t flow that great and when they get that much rain,” he said.
Bellard said parish crews helped get most of the water out of the houses and helped families clean up.
“We’ve been running around the parish trying to clean up the drainage problems with logs in the ditches and stuff and prepare for the rains we’re going to have later,” he said.
In Ascension Parish, south of Baton Rouge, at least 29 homes, three schools and two businesses flooded, spokesman Lester Kenyon said. He said Drainage Director Bill Roux estimated total rainfall at 9 to 11 inches.
Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies said a 56-year-old man was found dead in a flooded parking lot.
Deputies said the man was found outside his job about 4:30 p.m. The business closed before noon, and when the owner went out to check the flooded parking lot he found the victim under a vehicle. Investigators believe the water pushed the man under the vehicle.
Chief Deputy Tony Bacala said the incident remains under investigation.
Lightning or a power surge ignited a smoky fire that began in the wall of a home in the Lafayette Parish town of Scott, the Scott Volunteer Fire Department said in a news release. A man inside was able to escape, the release noted.
Calcasieu Parish in southwest Louisiana received more than 6 inches of rain, and 30 to 50 motorists were stranded in high waters, emergency director Dick Gremillion said.
“The water was as high as some people could remember it,” Gremillion said.

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY Associated Press

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