By JAKE BLEIBERG and KEVIN MCGILL
KEITHVILLE, La. (AP) — A volatile storm ripping across the U.S. spawned tornadoes blamed for killing at least three people in Louisiana, and the line of punishing weather threatened neighboring Southern states into the nighttime hours Wednesday.
To the north, the huge storm system delivered blizzard-like conditions to the Great Plains and was expected to push more snow and ice into Appalachia and New England. The wintery blast dumped more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow in parts of South Dakota.
Authorities in St. Charles Parish west of New Orleans said eight people were taken to hospitals with injuries Wednesday afternoon and one woman was found dead outdoors after a suspected tornado struck the community of Killona along the Mississippi River, damaging homes and flinging debris.
“She was outside the residence, so we don’t know exactly what happened,” St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said of the woman killed. He added. ”There was debris everywhere. She could have been struck. We don’t know for sure. But this was a horrific and a very violent tornado.”
About 280 miles (450 kilometers) away in northern Louisiana, it took hours for authorities to find the bodies of a mother and child reported missing after a tornado swept away their mobile home Tuesday in Keithville, a rural community near Shreveport.
“You go to search a house and the house isn’t even there, so where do you search?” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters, noting the challenge faced by emergency responders as he toured a mile-long (1.6-kilometer) path of destruction in Keithville.
The Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office said the body of 8-year-old Nikolus Little was found around 11 p.m. Tuesday in a wooded area. His mother, Yoshiko A. Smith, 30, was found dead under storm debris around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Smith’s body was discovered one street over from where their home had been. Her son was found dead as far as a half-mile away, said Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Sgt. Casey Jones. He said the boy’s father had left to buy groceries before the storm hit.
“He just went to go shopping for his family, came home and the house was gone,” said Jones. When deputies arrived, they found nothing but a concrete slab.
Wednesday’s forecast called for more severe storms with additional tornadoes expected across an area of the Gulf Coast region populated by nearly 3 million people from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama. More damaging weather also was possible in the Florida panhandle.
A steady stream of tornado warnings was issued Wednesday across portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
In Union Parish, in northern Louisiana near the Arkansas line, Farmerville Mayor John Crow said a tornado Tuesday night badly damaged an apartment complex where 50 families lived, wiping out a neighboring trailer park with about 10 homes. “It happened quick,” Crow said Wednesday, adding that about 30 homes were damaged along nearby Lake D’Arbonne.
Shannon Futch, Union Parish’s emergency director, said there were reports of numerous people treated for cuts and bruises and at least two people hospitalized after a twister cut a swath of damage about 5 miles (8 kilometers) long, toppling trees onto about a dozen houses.
“Some people even stayed the night in their houses that had big pine trees on them,” Futch said. “They didn’t have anywhere to go.”
A suspected tornado reported in New Iberia in southwest Louisiana damaged several buildings on the campus of New Iberia Medical Center, hospital officials said, with five people reporting minor injuries.
In neighboring Mississippi, a suspected tornado destroyed four large chicken houses — one containing 5,000 roosters — in Rankin County, Mississippi, Sheriff Bryan Bailey said. Mobile homes at a park in Sharkey County, Mississppi, were reduced to piles of shredded debris. Resident Leslie Jackson told WLBT-TV her home was one of only a few left standing.
A line of thunderstorms sweeping through Texas spawned tornadoes Tuesday that damaged dozens of homes and businesses. At least five people were injured In the Dallas suburb of Grapevine, police spokesperson Amanda McNew said. A possible tornado blew the roof off the city’s municipal service center, leaving debris dangling from powerlines.
Icy weather from the huge storm was expected to affect the U.S. from coast to coast. It began by dumping heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada and was predicted to bring ice and snow to the eastern U.S. in coming days.
“This system is notable for the fact that it’s going impact areas all the way from California to eventually the Northeast,” said Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
Forecasters expect the storm system to hobble the upper Midwest with ice, rain and snow for days, as well as move into the central Appalachians and Northeast. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, depending on the timing of the storm. Residents from West Virginia to Vermont were told to watch for a possible significant mix of snow, ice and sleet.
In the Black Hills of western South Dakota, snow piled up to nearly 2 feet (60 centimeters) in some mountainous communities.
“They shovel for hours on end,” said Vicki Weekly, who manages a historic hotel in the tourist and gambling city of Deadwood. A few visitors were still venturing out to hit the casinos.
A roughly 320-mile (520-kilometer) span of Interstate 90 in South Dakota was closed Wednesday, and state officials warned drivers to stay off most highways. The state also planned to close Interstate 29 in the northeast corner of the state on Wednesday night.
Wet, heavy snow left tree limbs sagging and made driving treacherous Wednesday in northern Minnesota. Weather Service meteorologist Ketzel Levens in Duluth said snow had reached 6 to 8 inches (15-20 centimeters) in some areas.
McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Julie Walker in New York; Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis; Jesse Bedayn in Denver; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Keithville.
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